It would seem (fortunately) that the version of events circulating through the blogosphere concerning Target’s corporate donation of $150,000 have been slightly distorted. The vague, cloud-shaped version of this event is “Target gave $150,000 to an anti-gay candidate”; the more precise delineation would be “Target gave $150,000 to MN Forward, a pro-business lobby that tends to fund Republican candidates, including gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who has made anti-gay remarks.” (Details of this and other, unfortunately inaccurate characterizations in Minnesota political volleying here.) And it should mean something that Target’s CEO publicly apologized concerning the fallout of this donation. Surely, he apologized less because he, personally, feels bad about the effects of the donation and more because he saw how it was going to affect Target’s business…but if people can make business-oriented decisions work toward socially worthy goals, why not?
One might also note that in the current political environment, it’s almost impossible for a corporation to donate to a “pro-business” group without also, indirectly, donating to the Republican Party…and therefore, without also indirectly contributing to politicians spouting anti-gay or anti-immigrant or racist, sexist rhetoric: the Republicans style themselves the party of business (and businesses believe it, even though, in fact, the economy has tended to do better under Democratic administrations than under Republican ones). Of course you could argue that in itself is a good thing, in that it might discourage free-range corporation donations…but then again, it isn’t on the face of it offensive that a business wants to encourage a pro-business group.
So is Target off the hook then? Not entirely…but certainly their situation is less dire than the cloud-shaped version suggested. One interesting aspect of this scenario is the way the Citizens United decision is leading to some perhaps unanticipated consequences. An analogy might be drawn to the often overlooked way in which the separation of church and state benefits not only “state” (the public, via its elected representatives) but also “church.” A state-sponsored church is less free than one not sponsored by the state; such state sponsorship implicates the church in any actions of the state, burdens the church with “members” who are there less through chosen allegiance than through convenience or even implicit threat, and generally demotes the church’s social and religious missions below its role as state organ. Similarly, what Target and other corporations may find out is that the newly allowed practice of unlimited donations puts them in an uncomfortable position, if significant numbers of the public, the corporation’s employees, or even its own leadership, disagree with the politics of whichever group or candidate the corporation supports. (And of course, no matter which group a business supports, significant numbers of customers are going to disagree with the politics of that group.) Apparently, in the wake of negative publicity surrounding Target’s donation, led by MoveOn.org and similar groups, Target’s stock declined, boycotts were mounted, and surely some former customers will not be swayed by the more detailed, arms-length nature of the actual donation: close enough, they’ll argue. And they may be right. Of course this can work both ways in terms of political allegiance: surely it wouldn’t be too hard for some right-wing group to discover that some group benefiting from some corporation’s largesse ended up distributing some monies to some other group helping gay and lesbian teens, say (among other agencies under such a group’s umbrella of funded groups).
So yes: Whenever a corporation takes advantage of its newly acquired right to donate without limit, let groups from all points of the political spectrum find some way to take loud, prolonged offense. Maybe that’s the only way corporations will back off from this tempting new means of exercising power. Let corporations sell and promote goods and services, and let political activity and power rise from the efforts of individual people—not corporations.