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A Sight for Stores’ Eyes: American Brands Make Political Headlines

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There are CEOs, and there are politicians — and there are people who try to be both. The intersection of corporate America and the culture wars has never been more crowded. Or more controversial. In an odd twist, some American brands are making more headlines for their politics than their products — a development that’s certainly affecting their bottom lines.

In a column for Fortune, Bill Boulding tries to explain the new wave of LGBT corporate activism and what it means for issues like bathrooms. He claims that most CEOs are driven to speak out because the debate either 1) directly impacts their business model; 2) has implications for employee morale and recruitment; or 3) violates their company’s core values. “Simply put,” Boulding argues, “if you tout diversity and inclusion as paramount in your company, many employees expect you will uphold those values related to external issues, as well. I should point out that these decisions to speak out are complex and can carry significant risk for a company on a variety of issues, ranging from angering employees and customers who disagree… to making the company itself a target for political action.”

Speaking of Target, the once-popular retailer knows better than anyone how costly it can be to pick sides in the culture wars. Last week, the company’s shares dropped 13 points overnight — just the latest scene in the store’s Wall Street nightmare that started when it opened bathrooms and changing rooms to both genders. Instead of learning from the mistake (which has been more than evident after a 1.5 million-person boycott), Target has stubbornly stayed the genderless course, despite a 43 percent nosedive in earnings.

And while people like Boulding claim that companies like Target are motivated by “core values,” the reality is that most of these CEOs and boards are held hostage by fringe agendas even when they aren’t personally supportive of such moves. In many cases, they’re actually driven by liberal affinity groups that make noise on issues like transgender bathrooms. As the Human Rights Campaign’s website points out, “These groups are usually given a budget and access to resources such as an e-mail address, a presence on internal employee-only websites (intranets), meeting space and focused opportunities to communicate the business value of LGBTQ inclusion with the broader organization.” Believe it or not, “90 percent of Fortune 500 companies currently maintain employee resource [or affinity] groups to support their commitment to diversity.” And their impact has never been greater. But if the Target debacle has taught us anything, it’s that there’s one group that has the final say – — and that’s consumers! Don’t give your dollars to companies that trample your values. Find out who those are with the 2ndVote app!

Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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