The Real Lesson In Target's Campaign Cash Trouble The backlash against Target Corp. over a political donation that angered gay-rights supporters has provided one picture of how American politics works in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. And it's one that may lead other companies to cover their tracks.

The Real Lesson In Target's Campaign Cash Trouble

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You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Among the many storylines we are watching this election season, one is about corporate cash and who's getting it. There's likely to be a lot more of it in politics now due to a Supreme Court ruling last winter that lifted restraints on companies and labor unions.

In the first of two reports, NPR's Peter Overby brings us up-to-date on one prominent case.

PETER OVERBY: This is one picture of how American politics works in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Target gave $150,000 to an independent group, which spent some of it on this ad.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: Getting government out of the way. Tom Emmer, the fighter Minnesota needs.

OVERBY: Target regarded Emmer as pro-business. But as a state legislator, before he ran for governor, he also built a solid record opposing gay equality.

Fred Sainz is with the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

Mr. FRED SAINZ (Spokesman, Human Rights Campaign): It is widely expected that the next governor will either have the opportunity to sign or veto marriage legislation in the state.

OVERBY: So protesters have beaten the path to Target stores.

Mr. SKYE STEELE (Singer): (Singing) Target wants to buy the governor's race. Emmer will remember who paid to play.

OVERBY: One of the more creative messages delivered by musician Skye Steele in a store in Brooklyn. This really matters to Target because it has a golden reputation for hiring GLBT employees and backing gay equality. The company apologized twice.

And when the Human Rights Campaign asked Target to shell out another $150,000 to help gay candidates for other offices, Target tentatively agreed. But now, after two weeks of talks, the company is reversing itself.

A spokeswoman says it's still committed to the gay community but feels it can't take any action right now because of all the political spin.

At the Human Rights Campaign, Fred Sainz says Target will pay a price.

Mr. SAINZ: I think that people will rightly question their commitment to equality.

OVERBY: And Target has to mend fences in San Francisco, where it wants to open two stores.

Ross Mirkarimi is on the city's board of supervisors.

Mr. ROSS MIRKARIMI (Member, San Francisco Board of Supervisors): San Francisco is the epicenter of the LGBT rights movement. And Target's behavior nationally seems to subvert or act inconsistent with what's important to San Francisco values.

OVERBY: And wants to make a political example of Target.

Ilyse Hogue is MoveOn's director of political advocacy.

Ms. ILYSE HOGUE (Director of Political Advocacy & Communications, Target must promise never to make this kind of political contribution again, and they should serve as a lesson to other corporations who are considering making the same move.

OVERBY: Just one thing, this isn't the lesson that corporations are getting. To them, it's all about disclosure. Target gave to a group that is legally bound to identify its contributors. That's why Target's contribution became known.

Many other groups don't have to disclose a thing. So a company can channel its money and its message through a business association or an advocacy group and outsiders will never know.

Robert Kelner is a campaign finance lawyer here in Washington.

Mr. ROBERT KELNER (Covington & Burling LLP): Given all these different ways that you can spend your money without generating a national news story, certainly, I think a lot of corporate executives are saying, this is just a reminder to use all those other tools that we have in our toolkit.

OVERBY: These tools work because Congress has never passed a wide-ranging disclosure bill. It tried to, in response to the Citizens United ruling, but the bill was filibustered in the Senate.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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