Woman outside a Target store holds boycott sign It's a rare day that Target is the object of consumer scorn, but that day has come. The retailer is under fire for donating money to a political action committee that supports a conservative politician opposed to gay marriage. It's quite a tangled web and Target is now facing a boycott as gay rights groups raise the alarm.

Thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to donate to candidates, Target gave $150,000 to MN Forward, an organization that supports Tom Emmer as the Republican Candidate for governor of Minnesota, where Target is headquartered. Minnesota-based Best Buy also donated $100,000 to MN Forward, but Target is the one taking the heat from the gay community, many members of which are pretty upset and surprised. Target is considered a gay-friendly company, extending same-sex partner benefits and sponsoring events in the gay community.
Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel responded in an email to employees, voicing his and Target's support of gay rights, but said the donation was to support a pro-business platform. That may be true, but how will Target shoppers separate the professional from the personal?

There have been plenty of periodic boycotts of consumer-product companies and retailers, thanks to views held by executives or the policies in place. Some people I know refuse to shop at Whole Foods because of an anti-health care reform position taken by the company's founder and CEO, John Mackey. I myself have boycotted companies in the past based on political beliefs. It's not easy to withhold money from places you enjoy visiting or not buy something you love or need, and so boycotts rarely work, even when supported by large groups.

In 1997, Southern Baptists voted to boycott the Walt Disney Co. and its subsidiaries, deeming the company's policy of offering health benefits to same-sex partners of employees and "Gay Days" at theme parks as "anti-Christian and anti-family." It called for the 15 million Southern Baptist members to boycott Disney's films, theme parks and television network (ABC). The group found "Pulp Fiction" offensive, as well.

The boycott garnered a lot of publicity but did it provoke any changes in Disney's policy? No, and the boycott was ultimately called off -- eight years later, in 2005.

There's no telling what effect a boycott by the gay community might have on Target's political donations. Most publicly-traded companies try to stay away from controversy like this, choosing instead to contribute to philanthropies that help children or cancer patients. Target does that too, but those moves may not be enough to shield it from the wrath of a community scorned.

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