After the Supreme Court upheld the right of corporations and unions to engage in political speech in Citizens United, many pundits darkly warned that corporations could now “buy” elections. These pundits necessarily relied on two assumptions: (1) voters are dolts whose votes can be “purchased” through advertising, without voters making any independent analysis of their own; and (2) corporations will not suffer economically through backing certain candidates.
For assumption (1) I refer our readers to Paul Sherman’s terrific post on this blog of earlier this month. As for assumption (2), check out this story on Target Corporation’s foray into the Minnesota gubernatorial race:
Target earlier this month donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a pro-business group backing Rep. Tom Emmer, the conservative Republican-endorsed gubernatorial candidate.
That led to a week of bruising reaction from Target employees and gay-rights activists that included a nationwide e-mail campaign and petition claiming 15,000 signatures.
Target claims the donation was made because the company supports Emmer’s fiscal policies, not his social policies which are viewed by some as anti-gay-rights. It also adamantly contends it remains “unwavering” in its support for the GLBT community through policies such as extending benefits to domestic partners. Even so, that has not saved Target from controversy, as many of its gay and lesbian employees, not to mention customers, are incensed by the support for Emmer.
Whether this outrage is justified or not, it is evidence that corporations wade into candidate races at their peril. The fact that this is even a story demonstrates that for-profit corporations are very careful, and hesitant, in picking sides in candidate races. What do corporations value more, customers or candidates? If they pick any candidate, they are going to anger many loyal customers, even if the reason they pick that candidate has nothing to do with why the customers are angry.