The hidden side of politics

Top New York official asks Best Buy about its commitment to LGBTQ groups after conservative pressure

Reported by CNBC: 

The New York state comptroller sent a letter to Best Buy last week questioning whether the company changed its commitment to inclusivity and supporting LGBTQ groups. The letter was sent four weeks after NBC News was first to report that the consumer electronics giant offered to screen LGBTQ nonprofit donations following conservative pressure.

The comptroller’s office manages the state’s $207 billion public pension fund, which has invested in Best Buy.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are fundamental values of companies with sound, sustainable, and profitable long-term strategies. Inclusion is essential for employee recruitment and retention, a driver of innovation, and an element of consumer brand loyalty,” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wrote to Best Buy CEO Corie S. Barry and the company’s board chairman, J. Patrick Doyle.

The letter, which the comptroller’s office shared with NBC News, was sent to Best Buy after NBC News first reported on a public Securities and Exchange Commission filing that showed Best Buy offered to screen donations from its employee resource groups going to LGBTQ causes following pressure from the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank that holds shares in the company.

“I am concerned that Best Buy’s actions could be seen by shareholders, employees, customers, and other

stakeholders as a departure from its stated commitment to policies and practices that promote inclusivity

and support for the LGBTQ+ community,” DiNapoli wrote. “Actions that compromise or are misaligned with a company’s core values and business strategy may result in reputational risk and threaten long-term shareholder value.”

DiNapoli ended by urging the company to send him responses “regarding the actions Best Buy is taking to address the risks articulated” and inviting the chief executive and board chairman to meet with his office to discuss the matter further.

A spokesperson for Best Buy told NBC News on Friday that the company’s standard process in dealing with shareholders’ concerns is to listen and engage in a conversation, as the spokesperson said the company is now doing with the state comptroller. The spokesperson did not comment further on the specifics of the comptroller’s letter.

In an email to NBC News, Scott Shepard, the general counsel of the NCPPR’s Free Enterprise Project, took issue with parts of DiNapoli’s letter, including his views on equity, with Shepard stating that equity “is by its own terms discrimination on the basis of race, sex and orientation against members of ‘non-diverse’ groups in ways that often violate law and the Constitution.” He also denied that the NCPPR pressured Best Buy to stop supporting LGBTQ groups in general.

“What our proposal sought and what Best Buy agreed to was a process for screening company donations for whether they supported organizations that took extreme positions on issues not fundamentally connected to Best Buy’s core business purposes, of any kind,” he wrote. In a separate email to NBC News, Shepard stressed that the NCPPR’s position was not motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus, but rather a desire to get “Best Buy [to] stop being radically left-wing, and just be a little more neutral” in order to protect shareholder value.

Shepard also shared with NBC News a letter from the NCPPR to Best Buy that he said outlined the deal that led his organization to withdraw its shareholder proposal. The first page of the letter — which Shepard said Best Buy drafted — states that the electronics retailer will not donate, as it had a few years ago, to The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, and “Our Gay History in Fifty States,” a queer history book for young adults.

It also states that Best Buy has never and will not in the future fund six additional LGBTQ groups or “similar organizations,” including SAGE, which advocates on behalf of LGBTQ elders, and GLAAD, an LGBTQ media advocacy group. The second page outlines a “Charitable Giving Annual Risk Review” to be performed by Best Buy management and shared with company executives and board members to “ensure charitable giving aligns with Company strategies and fiduciary duties.”

When asked about the letter, a company spokesperson did not say whether Best Buy contributed to the document in any way or whether any agreement was made.

Read more on NBC News

“Nothing has changed in the ways we give to LGBTQIA+ organizations,” Carly Charlson, a spokesperson for Best Buy, said in response to questions about the alleged agreement. “At Best Buy, we strongly believe in an inclusive work environment with a culture of belonging where everyone feels valued and has the opportunity to thrive.”

Charlson added that Best Buy has long supported and will continue to support the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, which Charlson said has recognized Best Buy as one of the best places to work for the LGBTQ community for the past 18 years in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

Eric Bloem, HRC’s vice president of programs and corporate advocacy, said in an email to NBC News that the group was “working with Best Buy to understand more.”

“Any company that uses their Corporate Equality Index distinction as cover while working with fringe groups and bad actors does not reflect true LGBTQ+ allyship in the corporate space,” Bloem said.

The monthslong email exchange between Best Buy and the NCPPR, detailed in an SEC filing, began in December when the group sent a shareholder proposal requesting Best Buy produce a report for investors about how all of its “voluntary partnerships” are benefiting the company’s business.

“Best Buy has partnerships with and contributes to organizations and activists that promote the practice of gender transition surgeries on minors and evangelize gender theory to minors,” read the proposal, signed by Ethan Peck, an associate at the NCPPR’s Free Enterprise Institute. “This contentious and vast disagreement between radical gender theory activists and the general public has nothing to do with Best Buy selling electronics.”

In a Jan. 17 email, Peck told Best Buy’s attorneys that the NCPPR “will withdraw its shareholder proposal if Best Buy were to end its partnerships with and contributions to” eight LGBTQ nonprofits and initiatives, which he described in the email as “predatory butchers.” The groups and initiatives are The Trevor ProjectOur Gay History in 50 StatesSAGEGLAADIt Gets Better, The GenderCool ProjectGLSEN and CenterLink. Peck did not ask Best Buy to stop its donations to the HRC, saying in the email, “We understand that it’s unrealistic for Best Buy to leave HRC in the near future because of their political clout.”

An attorney for Best Buy, Marina Rizzo, responded in a Feb. 5 email telling Peck that the company had reviewed the NCPPR’s concerns and informed him that Best Buy hadn’t donated in several years to two of the LGBTQ causes mentioned in the Jan. 17 email — The Trevor Project and Our Gay History in 50 States — and has never donated to the other six. She then said the company would screen certain donations from employee groups that the NCPPR may find concerning.

“As discussed during our call, we do allow our individual employee organizations, including our Military ERG, Conservative employee interest group, and our PRIDE group, among many other groups, some discretion to directly support organizations of their choosing,” Rizzo wrote. “That said, any such contributions would be screened to ensure they do not advocate or support the causes or agendas you have identified as concerning. We hope this addresses the concerns.”

On March 22, the NCPPR withdrew its December proposal, which, in turn, ensured that the NCPPR’s shareholder proposal regarding “voluntary partnerships” will not be presented at Best Buy’s annual shareholder meeting in June.