Republican Tom Emmer says the flap over Target Corp. giving money to a group supporting him in the Minnesota governor's race is getting personal.
Emmer weighed in for the first time Thursday on the reaction to Target's $150,000 contribution to MN Forward, an independent political fund running ads that support him. The state lawmaker opposes gay marriage, and some Democrats and gay rights activists are calling for a boycott of Target and posting protests on social media websites.
Emmer said in an interview that people upset over Target's donation are missing the big picture.
"The sad part to me is, I thought we were supposed to be able to exercise our rights of free speech," said Emmer, a fiery conservative who is his party's likely nominee for governor. "We're supposed to celebrate the fact that we have different perspectives. And it doesn't seem like that's what this is about. This seems to be more personal and we've got to get over that."
Target chief executive Gregg Steinhafel defended the donation earlier this week, saying the Minnesota-based discount retailer remains committed to the gay community. He said its political donations are intended to support business objectives such as job creation.
Monica Meyer, who heads the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota, said the gay community is also exercising its free speech rights by protesting Target's political giving.
"It's consumer dollars going to fund a candidate who wants to put discrimination in the constitution," she said, referring to Emmer's support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. "We have the right to be able to criticize that decision and do it publicly."
Target and other Minnesota-based companies, including electronics retailer Best Buy Co., Red Wing Shoes and snowmobile maker Polaris Industries Inc., donated to MN Forward after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed companies to spend money on elections. The decision overturned prohibitions on corporate campaign spending in about half the states, including Minnesota.
MN Forward has raised more than $1 million from industry trade groups and companies.