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Target’s Foray Into Politics Met With Protest From MoveOn.org

Liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org delivered a direct message to Target Corp. Friday: stop spending money on political campaigns. MoveOn.org delivered a petition with 260,000 signatures to company headquarters in Minneapolis demanding that it stop influencing campaigns.

Watch video from the event (courtesy of Mary Lahammer, Twin Cities Public Television anchor/reporter):

The retail giant has been the subject of some customer and activist outrage after it donated $150,000 to MN Forward, an independent political action committee that ran an ad in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

MN Forward is a coalition of businesses that seek to “elect a governor and state legislators who understand the importance of creating private-sector jobs and economic opportunity in our state.”

MoveOn.org and Human Rights Campaign, fueled by angry Target customers, criticized the big-box retailer for supporting Emmer, who has been an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and supporter of Arizona’s immigration law. For example, Emmer voted against a bill that would allow domestic partners to make decisions about burial arrangements and other death rights for each other. Importantly, the bill defined domestic partners as being of the same-sex.

Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org, said the petition and associated protests at Target stores around the country are intended to send a message that corporations shouldn’t be involved in campaigns.

“When Target became one of the first known companies to try to buy an election, we started to hear a response almost immediately,” Hogue said. “We have people who haven’t previously worked with us who are coming to us and saying, ‘Target needs to be made an example.'”

MN Forward and the Emmer campaign did not respond to a NewsHour request for comment.

Randi Reitan and her son Jacob, who is gay, delivered the petition to Target headquarters. Reitan made a web video, which received more than 200,000 views, of her tearfully cutting up her Target credit card in protest of the support for Emmer and MN Forward.

She told the NewsHour that she and her son delivered the petitions to two Target employees and that their request to meet CEO Gregg Steinhafel was denied. She said the company had a reputation for being a gay-friendly employer.

“I think Target has done great damage to their name. You just had a good feeling about Target when you shopped there,” Reitan said, who said she shopped at Target about once a week. “I found a Target receipt and I thought the money I paid that day is now in Tom Emmer’s pocket, that’s the thought that came to mind,” she added.

Target has become one of the first corporations to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United v. FCC case that allows companies, unions and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign advertising.

President Obama and Congressional Democrats have repeatedly criticized the Supreme Court for the decision. President Obama even admonished some justices of the court for the decision during his first State of the Union speech in January while they sat in front of him.

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said.

The U.S. Senate attempted to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would have mandated that CEOs such as Steinhafel appear in the ads that their businesses fund, and would require other disclosures reforms aimed at connecting businesses or unions to the ads they buy. That bill passed the House earlier this summer after the Democratic leadership secured enough votes by exempting the National Rifle Association, AARP and the Humane Society from its reach. The bill failed to gain the 60 votes needed in the Senate to avoid a threatened Republican-led filibuster.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of the Democratic campaign committee in the House and the lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, told WAMU Friday that he expects the Senate to bring the bill back up again for a vote in September.

Steinhafel issued an apology yesterday, saying that the donation was intended to support Emmer’s views on economic issues.

“While I firmly believe that a business climate conducive to growth is critical to our future, I realize our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate, and for that I am genuinely sorry,” Steinhafel wrote to employees.

A Target spokeswoman said that Steinhafel’s Thursday statement was the only comment the company has on the protest.

Steinhafel did not say that Target would stop donating to campaigns or that it would honor the Human Rights Campaign request that Target donate an equivalent amount to a pro gay-rights group.

Hogue said that MoveOn.org is not satisfied with the apology.

“You don’t respond to a group of outraged American citizens saying ‘Target don’t buy our election’ by saying ‘we’ll be more careful the next time we try to buy an election,'” she said, referring to Steinhafel’s statement that the company would set up a review process for future political contributions.

Emmer, a member of the state House of Representatives, will face one of three DFL Party candidates (Minnesota’s version of the Democratic Party) after the Aug. 10 primary.