Target Pushed to Stop Making Political Contributions

Bill de Blasio, who sits on the board of a major Target shareholder-the New York City Employees Retirement System-wants the company to change its policy on political donations; Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel told shareholders that concerns have been adequately addressed.

On Tuesday, one day before Target Corporation's annual shareholder meeting, a trustee of one of the company's major shareholders has called for it to change its policy on political gifts.

“I write to express deep concern regarding the city's investment in Target Corp,” Bill de Blasio, a member of the New York City Employees Retirement System board, said in a Tuesday letter to New York City Comptroller John C. Liu. “The company's experience in political spending, and the lack of effective reforms taken by the company after the controversy surrounding the company's 2010 corporate political spending make the company a leading candidate to receive a shareholder resolution regard[ing] political spending from the funds. Furthermore, as investment advisor to the funds, I ask that you consider withholding votes from relevant Target Corp. directors, in the absence of a change in policy on political spending.”

Target faced significant backlash from both employees and the GLBT community after it gave $150,000 in August 2010 to MN Forward, an organization that backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes gay marriage.

Target's donation followed a 2010 Supreme Court decision that granted corporations the right to make unlimited donations to independent organizations like MN Forward, although they are still mostly prohibited from contributing directly to campaigns or political candidates.

At Wednesday's shareholder meeting in Pittsburgh, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel reportedly faced a host of critical questions about the MN Forward donation. “We learned a lot last year,” he said of the criticism over that gift, according to the Star Tribune. “We took the feedback seriously.”

One shareholder reportedly asked: “Knowing what you know now, would you make the same contribution?”

“We've sufficiently addressed that topic,” Steinhafel replied. “We want to move forward and not reflect on the past.”

Steinhafel said that after the MN Forward donation, Target revised its political donation policy. According to the “civic activity” page of the company's Web site, Steinhafel and a policy committee consisting of senior executives are together responsible for vetting and making decisions about political donations. The group's activities are reviewed twice annually by the corporate responsibility committee that's governed by Target's board of directors.

In a statement e-mailed on Wednesday, Target referenced its new policy: “Following the 2010 election, Target conducted a thorough evaluation of our processes and established a policy committee to review and provide greater oversight to future corporate political giving. Moving forward, we will evaluate our giving based on business, team member, and stakeholder objectives. Target believes that engaging in civic activities is an important part of operating a national retail business and believe we operate best when working with policy makers on both sides of the aisle.”

Target-which operates a retail segment and a credit-card segment-now serves customers at 1,755 stores in 49 states nationwide and on its Web site. It is Minnesota's second-largest public company based on its revenue, which totaled $67.4 billion in its most recently completed fiscal year.