A distasteful move by


We’d really like to like, the progressive advocacy group that aims to counteract the influence of big-money corporate political campaigns. But we started to lose faith after its sophomoric attack on Army Gen. David H. Petraeus (“General Betray Us”), then commander of coalition forces in Iraq, in a 2007 ad campaign. Its latest attempt to extort and humiliate retailer Target Corp. shows that the maturity level at headquarters hasn’t advanced.

For the record: This editorial says joined gay rights organizations in trying to wrest a $150,000 donation from Target Corp. in support of pro-gay rights candidates. MoveOn was not involved in those discussions. The editorial also said that MoveOn launched a boycott campaign against Target after the company announced it wouldn’t make the donation. Although MoveOn did unveil a new TV ad following Target’s announcement, it had started the boycott campaign weeks earlier.

On Tuesday, MoveOn launched a new TV ad targeting Target, urging shoppers to boycott the chain because of a $150,000 donation it gave to the Minnesota business advocacy group MN Forward. That group is backing Tom Emmer, the Republican candidate for Minnesota governor, who is an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage. MoveOn, along with the gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, has been pressuring Target for weeks over the donation, wresting an apology from the company’s chief executive and a promise that future political contributions will be vetted more carefully; Target insists that it gave the money strictly to support MN Forward’s pro-business stance, not to oppose gay rights. That wasn’t good enough for the activists. When Target failed to knuckle under to demands that it contribute $150,000 to pro-gay-rights candidates, MoveOn hit back with its boycott campaign.

For MoveOn, the fight is at least as much about corporate money as it is about gay rights. The Target contribution is a high-profile result of an overreaching January decision by the Supreme Court that opens the door for more corporate donations to political campaigns. But by pointing out Target’s involvement in Emmer’s campaign and obtaining an apology, MoveOn and Human Rights Campaign had already won; their calls for a boycott and attempt to strong-arm money from the company are deeply counterproductive.

The boycott is a tried-and-true tool of nonviolent resistance, used to powerful effect during the civil rights era. But it is cheapened and ultimately rendered ineffective when it becomes a hair-trigger response by activists irked by minor political transgressions. Target’s contribution to MN Forward was at worst a small error of judgment, and should matter far less than the company’s ongoing and long-term commitment to workplace equal rights and its sponsorship of pro-gay events. Moreover, the attempt to wrangle an in-kind contribution from Target is reminiscent of a tactic that appalled gay rights advocates when it was used against them during the campaign for Proposition 8, California’s 2008 initiative banning same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 supporters sent letters to big contributors for the opposite side, threatening to expose them unless they sent an equal donation to their campaign. It was a distasteful move then, and now.