Shareholder trustee, advocates ask Target to end direct political spending

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  • Dale Eisman

NY City pension trustee will urge “no” votes on Target directors unless company provides more transparency about its political spending

With shareholders of Minneapolis-based Target Corporation gathering for the first time since the corporation came under fire for its campaign contributions in the 2010 Minnesota governor’s race, a trustee of a major pension fund and representatives of other organizations called on the company today to refrain from using corporate profits for political spending. In a telephone press conference call, they outlined their concerns and detailed plans to question Target executives about corporate spending at Wednesday’s shareholder meeting.

“As shareholders and citizens we cannot afford to let Target play the same political games a second time,” said New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a trustee of the $40 billion New York City Employee Retirement System. “If Target continues to prioritize lax rules on political spending over the interests of its investors and the public, then I will urge New York City’s largest pension fund to oppose company board members.”

De Blasio and representatives of the non-partisan citizens lobby Common Cause, the gay rights Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh and the United Steelworkers Union, called on Target to reconsider its use of corporate profits for political purposes. This spending became legal in January 2010, when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision freed corporations to spend money to advocate for election or defeat of federal candidates for first time in over 100 years.

“As one of the first major corporations to engage in political spending after Citizens United, Target has become the poster child for the reputational risks associated with corporate political spending,” said Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, a lead organizer of the event. “Target Corporation has failed to learn from the controversy last year by continuing to make corporate political donations.”

“The problem with the Citizens United decision is that more money does not mean more democracy,” said Fred Redmond, International Vice President of the United Steel Workers. “We plan to send a message to Target Corporation and other corporations that our democracy is not for sale, and that politicians should answer to the interests of the working men and women that elect them, rather than special interests.”

Target’s $150,000 donation to Minnesota Forward, a political group supporting gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, sparked a consumer boycott, Facebook ads ripping the company, and viral anti-Target videos. In the meantime, the value of Target stock plunged by 3.5 percent, or $1.3 billion.

Critics found Target’s support for Emmer, an opponent of same-sex marriage rights, sharply at odds with the progressive image Target has cultivated on social issues.

“The Target Corporation was known for having policies which supported civil rights of all people. When Target made a donation last summer to Minnesota Forward, which supported Tom Emmer, those policies were upended,” said Thomas Waters, the advocacy chair of the Delta Foundation. “We are asking Target Corporation to make it right by pledging to end its practice of giving corporate treasury money to political organizations and activities.”

At Wednesday’s scheduled meeting of Target shareholders in Pittsburgh, affiliated institutional investors with major stakes in the company plan to question Target executives about the company’s political spending policies. The action is part of a coordinated effort to urge corporations to refrain from spending money from corporate accounts on politics in the 2012 election cycle.

Over the past year, de Blasio’s office has used public actions and negotiations to persuade companies such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley to adopt policies against spending treasury dollars in elections. He wrote the city’s comptroller a letter Tuesday suggesting that New York’s employee pension funds withhold their support from Target directors, “in the absence of a change in policy on political spending.”

Common Cause, the United Steelworkers and other groups are also sponsoring a rally outside the Wednesday shareholder’s meeting, which is being held in a new Target store. The gathering will allow citizens and shareholders to give voice to their concerns about the company’s political spending.