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Minn. Ad Puts Target At Center Of Campaign Finance Controversy
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Minn. Ad Puts Target At Center Of Campaign Finance Controversy

Election 2010


Even as senators are voting to block to disclosed bill here in Washington, public disclosure of corporate political money is causing controversy in Minnesota. Target, the high-style discount chain, helped pay for a TV ad endorsing a candidate for governor.

As NPR's Peter Overby reports, that discloser is causing Target problems.

PETER OVERBY: The ad gives Republican Tom Emmer a full-throated endorsement as a pro-business, pro-growth candidate.


Unidentified Man: Now Emmer runs for governor, working to grow jobs, getting government out of the way. Tom Emmer, the fighter Minnesota needs.

OVERBY: The group behind the ad is called Minnesota Forward. And the main money behind Minnesota Forward comes from seven companies, $100,000 from each of them. Target is on that donor list. In fact, it also gave Minnesota Forward another $50,000 worth of help with branding. And the $150,000 is what got Target in its current jam.

Emmer is well known as a conservative on social issues. He supports the Arizona crackdown on illegal immigrants and, more to the point here, he opposes gay marriage. Target has a record of gay-friendly policies and some employees and customers are angry now that it's spending corporate money to support Emmer.

The consultant behind Minnesota Forward is Brian McClung. He says the group was made possible by the Supreme Court decision to allow corporate political spending. In a cell phone conversation, he said that companies weigh their priorities when they give money for Minnesota Forward's ads.

BRIAN MCCLUNG: Some decisions might upset some folks, but they have to make a decision, you know, overall on what they think is the right direction, you know, for their business and for the community that they're in.

OVERBY: Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel tried to calm things down today with a letter to employees. He wrote, quote, "inclusiveness remains a core value of our company," unquote. That said, he also wrote, quote, "I consider it my responsibility to create conditions in which Target can thrive." It's exactly this kind of story that makes some corporate leaders worry about sending money into the political fray.

Larry Norton, a former counsel to the Federal Election Commission, says American business seems to be in wait-and-see mode for now.

LARRY NORTON: On the other hand, I do think you're going to see a significant uptick in the coming months in election-related advertising funded by unions, funded by major trade associations and other business organizations.

OVERBY: And when that significant uptick comes, he says, there's going to be one question asked over and over.

NORTON: And that is, well, if we make this contribution to you, are you going to have to disclose that we gave it to you?

OVERBY: For a situation like Target's, the answer under the DISCLOSE bill would've been, yes, the money would be disclosed. But with today's vote in the Senate, the answer is maybe, maybe not.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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