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July 29, 2010
Target Is Targeted in Minnesota
Maybe a new PR speciality will emerge as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's divided ruling in January that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns. Not really; PR likely is ready for anything. However, Target's current woes in Minnesota over a contribution to a candidate opposed to gay rights illustrate why business forces in the U.S. Senate are fighting to block disclosure of corporate campaign contributions.

The Huffington Post reports that Target's $150,000 to MN Forward "has become a rather large public relations nightmare" for the retailing chain. MN Forward is running TV ads supporting conservative state Rep. Tom Emmer, who is running for governor and is hostile to gays.

The story doesn't say how the contribution became known, but it hardly matters. Disclosure by any means can cause a corporation to have some explaining to do -- as witness the discomfort of Target's CEO Gregg Steinhafel: "We rarely endorse all advocated positions of the organizations or candidates we support," he wrote in an e-mail to the retailer's employees, "and we do not have a political or social agenda. As you know, Target has a history of supporting organizations and candidates, on both sides of the aisle, who seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives, such as job creation and economic growth ... Let me be very clear, Target's support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company."

Target has a moderate image in Minnesota where, the Huffington Post notes, it's known for donating to public school programs, food pantries, and the annual Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival. In PR terms, it would have been far better if it hadn't had to address the contribution benefitting Tom Emmer. And if Senate Republicans keep blocking a disclosure bill there, it and other politically generous corporations may well have such concerns relieved.

Public relations, however, is about managing public interests. Understanding who is bankrolling the U.S. political process is certainly of public interest. We're coming up to fall elections in which we'll be able to watch how the court-inspired financing furor unfolds. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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