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Target feels backlash from shareholders

Institutions with stakes in the retail giant are demanding that the company revamp its donation process after a $150,000 contribution backed an anti-gay-rights candidate.

August 19, 2010|By Jennifer Martinez and Tom Hamburger, Tribune Washington Bureau

The Conference Board, an influential business association, is preparing to publish a guide advising companies and their directors to be cautious in the new era of campaign contribution.

Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability and one of the guide's authors, said corporate executives were tracking the Target situation closely and looking for ways to avoid similar public relations problems.

Added Shelley Alpern, director of shareholder advocacy for Trillium Management: "A good corporate political contribution policy should prevent the kind of debacle Target and Best Buy walked into.

"We expect companies to evaluate candidates based upon the range of their positions — not simply one area — and assess whether they are in alignment with their core values. But these companies' policies are clearly lacking that," Alpern said.

In a news release announcing the resolution, Trillium also disclosed that one client with a relatively small holding in Target had asked that its ownership of the stock be immediately liquidated. Officials from the Equity Foundation of Portland, Ore., said they were divesting because they were "troubled" by Target's political contribution.

Target also is facing calls for a boycott from and has received stinging criticism from gay rights advocates, who once lauded the company for its approach to gay and lesbian issues.

Though some corporate executives and activists think the Target case may be a cautionary tale for businesses, Tara Malloy of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center believes it will not necessarily hinder businesses from pouring money into campaigns.

Energy companies and defense contractors that have less interaction with the public won't be subject to the same kind of pressure as retailers.

Besides, she said, "the Target case may just be an example of a corporation doing it wrong." Other donors may take pains to make their contributions anonymous, she said.

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