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Gay rights group's talks with Target break down

Activists pledge more protests of a company donation that helped a Republican who has opposed their initiatives.

August 17, 2010|By Tom Hamburger and Jennifer Martinez, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington —

After the breakdown of its talks with Target Corp., the nation's leading gay rights organization said Monday that it would continue to protest against the company over a donation used to support a Republican gubernatorial candidate with a history of opposing gay rights.

Officials with the Human Rights Campaign said the giant retailer had effectively rejected the group's proposals that Target donate to gay rights organizations to offset the earlier donation.

Target's handling of the confrontation has been closely watched because it is the first case in this election cycle of a company hit by national protests over a campaign donation. The topic is especially sensitive this year because of a Supreme Court decision that allows corporate organizations and unions to use their funds in election campaigns.

Human Rights Campaign is considering whether to suspend Target's 100% rating on its Corporate Equality Index, a measure of corporate hiring diversity policies on a scale of 0% to 100%.

"If their initial contribution was a slap in the face, their refusal to make it right is a punch in the gut, and that's not something that we will soon forget," said Joe Solmonese, the group's president.

Target said it was "best to wait" given the controversy stirred by its donation, which prompted Facebook calls for a boycott and scattered protests outside stores. An anti-boycott site also popped up on Facebook from conservatives supporting Target.

"We believe that it is impossible to avoid turning any further actions into a political issue and will use the benefit of time to make thoughtful, careful decisions on how best to move forward," the company said in a statement.

Target Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel has told employees that sending a $150,000 donation to the new political group MN Forward was a business decision. The group used Target's funds to help underwrite ads backing Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes gay marriage and other legislative initiatives sought by gay rights groups.

In response, San Francisco officials threatened to block the construction of two Target stores in the city, where gay advocates have long had strong influence. In addition, MoveOn.org and other left-leaning groups have asked supporters to boycott Target. MoveOn posted a video Monday on YouTube showing a group of its members performing a musical number inside a Seattle Target store.

Republicans and several organizations on the right have complained that Target was the victim of "liberal thuggery."

The ability of corporations to donate on behalf of Republican candidates is of special concern to Democrats in this midterm election. Democrats have outraised Republicans in traditional campaign fundraising, but they fear the advantage may be overwhelmed by corporate giving.

On the right, observers think the unwanted attention Target has received will put a chill on donation plans.

Human Rights Campaign said it had reached two tentative agreements with Target but the retailer backed out. The group said it planned to give $150,000 to organizations that supported candidates in favor of gay rights.

Best Buy Co. has also given to MN Forward. Human Rights Campaign said it was negotiating with Best Buy.

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

jennifer.martinez@latimes.com

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