Big Corporation Spends Big Bucks for Right Wing Politician: This is News Because…..?

Oh Target. Everyone was atwitterin’ about how the chain store was finally opening one up in San Francisco. Yes, it’s a chain, blah blah blah, but if you’re buying household items and other said necessities, sometimes one doesn’t want to buy an artisan macrame frying pan, they just want to buy one that’s cheap, and not have to go to Colma. It didn’t hurt that Target had a great local PR team to boost its chances, either.
Then the “big news” started to trickle out about Target’s donation to a group backing some right wing guy in Minnesota (home base of Target) running for governor who thinks that all waiters make $100,000 a year, and dislikes gay people. What a surprise! A big company supports a right wing candidate based on their economic views? Shocking. Just shocking.
Naturally, this started a storm of fiery Internet critiques. Newspaper ads appeared, and trusty launched Yet Another Email SPAM Blast begging for money and whatever else it is begs from you, blasting away at the now Evil Target. Predictably, conservative bloggers and talkers rallied to Target’s defense, and engaged in their own brand of self promoting babble. Blah blah blah.
Finally, Target “apologized.” Their first foray in direct corporate funding for political camapigns ended in a bit of a standoff, with no one really “winning” (aside from all those lefty and righty groups, bloggers and whatnots who made a few pennies off the sh*tstorm).
Let’s take a breather from all the hot air, and let’s review a few facts:
– The Awl makes the very obvious-but-not-obvious point that Target’s corporate management and PACs have always supported very conservative candidates for office. That is their right, after all – the leadership of Target is free to support whomever they choose.
Yes, Target does some donations and other things that are GLBT-positive. But that’s not a moral decision – that was a business decision to appeal to the GLBT consumer. Target also makes political donations to conservative politicians – that was a business decision to benefit Target’s bottom line.
That’s perfectly logical to upper management – unfortunately that kind of “having it both ways” doesn’t always play well with the public. Hence the downside of engaging in politics – the Other Sides have the same right to engage in free speech too.
Target has made a priority of expanding into urban markets with smaller stores, similar to the ones proposed in San Francisco. Urban areas tend to have well-organized, vocal GLBT communities, and losing their support because of this latest kerfuffle could cost those urban locations. I’m sure that when whoever is in charge of Giving Target’s Corporate Cash Directly To Campaigns Department made the big donation to that PAC in Minnesota, they figured no one would care outside of MN. A logical assumption, but not necessarily the right one in the Age of The Internet and the Age of Angry Hyper-Partisanship.
Besides, despite all this support for anti-gay candidates, the Human Rights Campaign Fund gives Target (and allied retailer Best Buy) a sparkly 100% rating for being GLBT friendly. Remember that when they come begging for money from you on a street corner next time.
– I don’t know that this whole thing will make a bit of difference in Target’s plans for San Francisco. Despite the alleged liberalism of San Franciscans, they have shown a unique ability to abandon principles in favor of material goods. Target does provide cheap products from China and other necessities people seem to like, hence a lot of Target love in Liberal SF.
When they announced Target’s plans, it was very difficult to find the usual band of NIMBYs and lefties who go to protest rallies speaking out against this particular chain. Then again, San Francisco plants a wet one on Whole Foods every time it opens another store, despite being one of the most obnoxious and overpriced chains in the country, so again, big surprise. The Castro welcomed a Levi’s store (complete with sweatshop made clothes) with open arms, as well. The common thread being that chains that hire the best local PR people tend to get their way, because the local PR people know how to use the Politics of Feelings to keep the local hippies in check.
Target didn’t do anything criminal in donating directly to some right wing group. However, the donation had the net effect of slapping their logo onto a partisan cause for the far right, for all to see. This, at the same time it’s trying to have it both ways with all sorts of marketing to GLBT consumers. Given the bloodbath that is political discourse nowadays, it’s not hard to see why this ended up as a PR FAIL for Target.
People know the Target brand, and it’s easy to see why people might feel a bit put off when they see their favorite store supporting people that think they have no right to exist, at the same time the same company is running around saying it’s pro GLBT. It’s a bit of (oh God not an Orwell reference) doublethink in the classic sense of the word. Makes sense inside the office, but doesn’t play well outside.
As for Target’s plans in SF – bring it on. There’s nothing at the old Sears location on Geary right now anyway, and if moving Target in means keeping some sales tax dollars in SF instead of seeing it all go to Colma, fine. It’s not like some artisan hippie collective is going to be doing anything useful in the space.
If people really dislike Target’s politics, they don’t have to shop there. As for me, I’ve never had any delusions about what big corporate stores are and are not. They are not benevolent charities and paragons of goodliness and socialism, they are in business to make money for shareholders and themselves any way they can. I’ve never thought Target was the former – and I don’t see why anyone else would think so either.
PS: If some corporation decided to pony up the cash for some left wing candidate for Governor (unlikely but hey, this is America), you can bet that the conservatives would be throwing a temper tantrum worse than a spoiled child too. The shoutalot ideologues in our country who make a buck off of antagonism tend to operate in the same way, be they left or right.
UPDATE: It seem the shareholders aren’t too fond of all this hullaballoo. This is no surprise. Corporations are in the business of making money and serving the financial needs of their shareholders. If engaging in any politics (left or right) impedes this, then shareholders will not be pleased.

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