Corporations Are People

By Kaitlyn Walsh August 25, 2011

Categories: Our Affairs, Politics

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Target Corporation has been bearing the brunt of scrutiny for their $150,000 donation to MN Forward, a political action committee supporting Republican Tom Emmer, who openly opposes same-sex marriage, while some Twin Cities non-profit organizations face criticism for their corporate contributors.

Looking into the issue further, many organizations recognized that corporations and their employee groups are important components to realizing their overall mission, even when there are conflicting political contributions.

Amy Brugh, Minnesota AIDS Project’s director of external relations, said the organization is able to look past political donations when considering donors.

“If a corporation makes a donation for an electoral purpose, we would set that aside,” Brugh said. Kathleen H. Corley, MAP’s interim executive director, agreed and said it is beneficial to recognize the contributor’s aim.

“We’re not going to impugn the gift because of the behavior of the corporation, ” Corley noted. “It is a gift made by a group with supportive intent.”

Contributions can come from Employee Resource Groups, composed of people in the workforce, or corporate giving departments, but many of the organizations agreed it doesn’t matter where the money comes from.

“From our perspective, it doesn’t make much difference which corporate arm is actually making a gift,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director of the Twin Cities Human Rights Campaign, via email. “It’s simply a company’s contribution at the end of the day.”

Employee groups can often raise awareness of an issue that is important to a corporation’s employees and “companies want to support their employees,” according to Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride. TC Pride has been criticized for donations they have accepted from Target, but Belstler pointed out the situation is more complicated than it may seem.

“It would be nice if it were black and white,” Belstler explained. “We try to weigh a lot of different things when we look at sponsorships. We have to go back to our mission.”

Whether it is working with the employee group or the corporation itself, the “bottom line is…who cares about your cause,” said Belstler. Belstler explained that the members of Target’s GLBT employee group, the GLBT Employee Business Council, are active in the Twin Cities community as the volunteers “on the ground.” She said the group helped Target re-examine how they make donations.

“We had two different times where Target executives came to Pride board meetings to talk about how they work, what happens there and how things are changing,” Belstler stated. “They are being more responsive to their employees.” Corporations and employee groups add valuable perspectives, as well as financial support, according to Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of Project 515.

“One thing that Project 515 has been really intentional about is bringing as many different voices to the table as possible,” Kaner-Roth said. “It’s about bringing people into the discussion.” When asked whether or not contributor’s past donations matter in the vetting process Kaner-Roth responded, “I think that if a corporation is willing to support a mission, we want to have both that support and that voice at the table to move that mission forward. I don’t think we will succeed as a movement if we are not welcoming of all voices.”

According to Project 515’s website, the organization receives funding from the Target Foundation, which distributes grants from the corporation to the community, as well as many other diverse sources that Kaner-Roth described as “vital” to their cause. Kaner-Roth added, “All of our contributors believe in the mission of [Project] 515 and at the end of the day that really is the most important thing for us.”

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