Target “has become,” in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune’s words, “something of a poster child for the perils of corporations making political contributions.” The Target “flap,” per the Wall Street Journal,” “shows the potential downside for companies that want to get more involved in politics” – for “brand-oriented companies, in particular.” The Washington Post quoted the vice president of policy at the Center for Competitive Politics calling this “a sort of an object lesson for the next time a Sears or a Wal-Mart thinks about getting involved in some political expenditures,” since “large corporations are not generally interested in alienating customers.”
As the AP had it:
Target’s headache illustrates the potential risks for businesses that seek to take advantage of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out parts of a 63-year-old law that prohibited campaign donations from company funds. The ruling changed regulations in about half the states, but the Target donation in Minnesota is among the first major new corporate moves to come to light.
Which hints — the first— at the answer to this question, posed and then answered by the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
A dozen Minnesota companies have sent corporate money into this year’s political campaign, from Securian Financial to Polaris Industries to Davisco Foods.
So why is everyone focusing on Target Corp.?
The question arises because Target finds itself alone in the center of the storm. To its critics, there are both logical and emotional reasons why Target has become the poster child in a nationwide controversy after it gave corporate cash to a group backing Tom Emmer, the Republican candidate for governor with a record of opposing gay rights.
The logical reasons, they say, include Target being Minnesota’s first corporate donor, Target being the largest donor ($150,000) and Target being the biggest company.
But the reasons are emotional, too, touching on Target’s deep connection to consumers, even more so than for electronic retailer Best Buy — a corporate contributor that gave the same group $100,000….
Or, as Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center told the Washington Post:
One has to be cautious when reading too much into the example of Target. In many ways it was a perfect storm for a controversy.
Malloy was also quoted in the LA Times suggesting that what companies might take from Target-Gate is not don’t make political contributions but rather don’t do it the way Target did.
Though some corporate executives and activists think the Target case may be a cautionary tale for businesses, Tara Malloy of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center believes it will not necessarily hinder businesses from pouring money into campaigns.
Energy companies and defense contractors that have less interaction with the public won’t be subject to the same kind of pressure as retailers.
Besides, she said, “the Target case may just be an example of a corporation doing it wrong.” Other donors may take pains to make their contributions anonymous, she said.
Or, as Robert Kelner, a Washington campaign finance lawyer, told NPR’s Overby:
Given all these different ways that you can spend your money without generating a national news story, certainly I think a lot of corporate executives are saying this is just a reminder to use all those other tools that we have in our tool kit…
…adding, Call me! (Not really).
The lesson, in other words: When using company money to make political donations, be sure to do so in a way that does not also make headlines. It turns out, it could get easier for Target and other Minnesota-based companies to do just that: supporters of gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer filed a motion in U.S. District Court to overturn the state disclosure requirement that brought Target’s contribution to light.