Large corporations have always donated portions of their profits to causes outside of their immediate business goals. Companies often donate to feel-good charities for a variety of reasons – for tax breaks, to boost their public image, maybe even to be generous for no particular reason.
McDonald’s Ronald McDonald House Charities donates millions to families with disabled children. Avon’s Foundation for Women has given $860 million to breast cancer research and domestic abuse programs. The list goes on. And these are relatively safe, non-controversial causes that can’t be criticized.
Matters get more complicated when corporations donate to organizations with political interests. This issue was brought closer to home with the recent uproar against Chick-fil-A’s donations to anti-gay organizations, including Focus On The Family and Exodus International. Turns out, there’s a multitude of corporations that have also funded anti-gay campaigns and other controversial causes.
Best Buy donated $100,000 to Tom Emmer, a socially conservative Minnesota gubernatorial candidate with very contentious opinions. In addition to his anti-gay stance, Emmer supported castration of sex offenders, banning abortion entirely, and the pharmacists’ rights to deny contraception.
Target donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a PAC that supported Emmer’s campaign. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel later issued a formal apology to its employees after complaints about anti-LGBT activities. Steinhafel claimed to aid MN Forward in support of economic growth and promised to include more “dialogue focused on diversity and inclusion in the working place, including GLBT issues.”
Exxon Mobil is the largest company that does not offer benefits to domestic partnerships. The Human Rights Campaign gave it a negative score of -25 on the Corporate Equality Index, which measures treatment of LGBT employees on a scale of 0 to 100. It have not changed its stance since and still do not grant benefits to partnerships.
Then you’ve got the powerful individuals representing large corporations who privately donate to anti-gay causes. Their personal donations do not reflect the attitudes of the company, but their actions have still garnered controversy and appeals to boycott their products.
Urban Outfitters/Free People/Anthropologie co-founder and CEO Richard Hayne is a known conservative who has donated over $13,000 to Rick Santorum, who openly opposes gay rights. The donation was a private contribution and in no way affiliated with the company. Hayne’s personal beliefs on gay rights are also unclear. However, Urban Outfitters faced some criticism, and there was even a small Change.org petition threatening to boycott the store. Urban Outfitters was also criticized when it pulled a gay rights t-shirt from its stores, although the company said it was only because the shirt wasn’t selling well. Even Miley Cyrus got involved in this one.
[UPDATE: 5/3/12] Hotel magnate Doug Manchester, who
owns owned* San Diego’s Manchester Grand Hyatt and Grand del Mar resort, has also privately donated thousands to Protect Marriage. The group supported California’s Prop 8, which proposed a ban on same-sex marriages. Groups also advocated a boycott on Manchester’s hotels.
*The hotel was sold on March 9, 2011 to Host Hotels and Resorts. A representative said that Host is “very GLBT friendly and supports the GLBT Community.”
Chick-Fil-A and the rest of these corporations are not unique in their donations to anti-gay groups and candidates. Plenty of other corporations donate to other political groups, parties, and individuals with controversial stances. Corporate donations serve as just one instrumental means of exercising some influence over the political landscape. Expect more to come.