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Target Corp. Criticized at Shareholder Meeting

Retailer continues to be haunted by its 2010 contribution of $150,000 to MN Forward, which backed a gubernatorial candidate opposed to gay marriage.

Target continues to be haunted by its August 2010 contribution of $150,000 to MN Forward, an organization that backed a Republican gubernatorial candidate opposed to gay marriage. The topic reared its head at the company’s June 2011 annual meeting, when speaker after speaker criticized chairman Gregg Steinhafel, who finally said, “We’ve sufficiently addressed that topic. We want to move forward and not reflect on the past.”

On Wednesday, that same $150,000 contribution loomed over Target’s 2012 annual shareholders meeting, held in a U.S. Historic Landmark building at 1 South State Street in Chicago, where a CityTarget will open next month. Before the meeting, Common Cause Illinois and the Coalition for Justice and Respect, among other groups, held a rally at Daley Park, protesting Target’s use of shareholder money to fund political campaigns.

Boston-based investment firm Green Century Capital Management filed a resolution asking Target to change its policies and prohibit the use of corporate funds for political campaigns. The proposal failed in a preliminary vote count, Steinhafel said. Four company-sponsored resolutions, including the election of board directors, ratification of accounting firm Ernst & Young, corporate officers’ incentive plan and compensation governance, were approved.

“Target officially turned 50 last month,” Steinhafel said. “I’ve been reflecting on where we’ve been and where we’re going. We’re continually anticipating consumers’ shifting preferences. Target is well positioned to deliver significant value for many years to come. Last year’s revenue was $69 billion. We’re on target to reach our goal of $100 billion or more in sales and $8 or more in earnings per share by 2017. We’ll need to grow same-store sales by 3 percent annually.”

Results were good in 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, “despite a slow and uneven economic recovery,” Steinhafel said. “Profitable performance fuels job growth. It drives sustained shareholder value and enables us to give $3 million a week to support communities. At our current pace, we’ll exceed $4 million a week.” The retailer in 2011 repurchased $1.8 billion shares and increased its dividend, returning $2.5 billion to shareholders.

Target will open 20 to 25 stores this year and renovate 230 units. “We’re delivering a seamless cross-channel experience,” Steinhafel said. “We relaunched target.com last fall and continue to invest in usability.” Target’s first Canadian stores will open in the spring. “We expect Canada will add $6 billion in sales and 80 cents in EPS,” he said.

The microphones were opened to questions. “I don’t want a corporation to have a political view,” said one speaker. “Why get involved with political issues?” “The legislative and regulatory environment will have an impact on our business,” said a spokesman. “There’s a risk in participating and a risk in not participating.”

Another shareholder voiced his objection to Target selling Gay Pride T-shirts and giving the proceeds to an organization that seeks to “overthrow traditional marriage.” “We’ve been asked for years by team members and guests to carry it,” said a spokeswoman. “There’s 10 T-shirts and we’re carrying them online only.” A note on the Web site said that “due to strong demand, the product is sold out and will not be replenished.”

“I’d like to compliment this board on leading Target,” said a long-time shareholder. “I know they take a lot of flak from some stockholders. My stock is way up and I’m doing very well.”

“And with that,” said Steinhafel, “the meeting is adjourned.”