Monday, August 23, 2010

On Target

One of the unintended consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United is that now that corporations are free to donate to political campaigns, they’re finding out that it can backfire on them. Take the case of Target giving money to the campaign of Tom Emmer, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. Because of Mr. Emmer’s anti-gay stands, progressive and LGBT groups mounted a campaign against Target, some going so far as to boycott the stores and post videos about their actions. (This was met with outrage from the right, who, funnily enough, have no problem about calling for boycotts against companies that they think support liberal causes. Shoe, the other foot is on Line 1.)

Large corporations like Target can deal with public dissent. Issue an apology, promise to do better and be more aware of their customers, and so on (but notice that they didn’t rescind their donation to Mr. Emmer’s campaign). But when such an action riles their stockholders, now we’re talking real money.

“Imprudent donations can potentially have a major negative impact on company reputations and business if they don’t carefully and fully assess a candidate’s positions,” said Tim Smith, a senior vice president at Walden Asset Management, one of three asset management firms that this week filed a resolution asking the retail giant to overhaul its campaign donation policies. He cautioned that funding ballot initiatives, as many corporations have done, “can similarly backfire.”

So while we may have to live with the idea that corporations have as much a right to participate in the electoral process as a real voter, it might be a good idea to require them to report just how much money they’re giving to campaigns and let the democracy of the marketplace prevail.