Earlier this month, when TCF Financial Corporation chief Bill Cooper declared that he was yanking all of the bank's advertising from the Star Tribune, he wasted no time staking out the moral high ground. After all, this was a matter of honor, and the time had come to do battle with those reckless, lying leftists at the Newspaper of the Twin Cities, otherwise known as the Star and Sickle.
Specifically, Cooper was irked by an end-of-the-year Strib column that attacked a local right-wing blog called Power Line. Noting that Power Line is penned in part by TCF vice-president Scott Johnson, columnist Nick Coleman all but called for a consumer boycott of TCF. In Cooper's view, Coleman (and by extension the Strib) was assailing TCF for the free-speech activities of an employee. Those activities, Cooper insisted, had nothing--absolutely nothing--to do with TCF.
But after examining Johnson's time-dated posts, Power Line's critics on the left--including Coleman--surmised that Johnson does, in fact, blog on company time, meaning that TCF is in effect subsidizing Power Line's pro-war, neo-con agenda. Further teasing out this line of reasoning, a few lefty bloggers argued that the time has come for progressive-minded TCF customers to find another place to stash their money.
When contacted by City Pages, Cooper said he had checked into the matter of Johnson's blogging routine and found that the Big Trunk--Johnson's blogging nom de guerre--"didn't do any of this at work." For his part, Johnson--rankled by what he called a "shitty piece" about the Strib-Power Line-TCF brouhaha that appeared in City Pages two weeks ago--refused to answer any questions about his blogging routine. After asking to speak off the record (sorry, request denied), the Big Trunk promptly hung up the telephone.
Maybe banker's hours are more relaxed these days than any of us realize. Or maybe Johnson is pounding out his fulminations on the company clock. In the end, who really cares? Even by the least charitable view, Johnson's transgressions amount to nothing more than a garden-variety case of on-the-job internet slacking, which is a near-universal feature of the modern American workplace.
Lost in all these minutiae is a much larger point. TCF, which was a struggling S&L before Bill Cooper took control, owes much of its current success to the ability to attract low- and moderate-income customers. Politically speaking, however, the company is a straight-up high roller, and an avid fellow traveler of the Republican political machine.
To begin with, there is Cooper himself, who is the former chair of the state Republican Party, former board member of the Center of the American Experiment, and founder of a group called the Conservative Council, which has made a mission of purging Republicrats--i.e., moderate Republicans--from the party. Meanwhile, over the last three election cycles, Cooper and his wife Sharon have been among the party's more generous benefactors, doling out approximately $171,000 in contributions to assorted GOP candidates and causes.
More notable, however, is the overall giving pattern at TCF. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics, TCF has consistently ranked in the top 10 savings & loans nationwide in terms of overall political contributions. In 2002 and 2004, according to the Center, 100 percent of the TCF contributions went to Republicans; in 2000--an off year for company ideologues?--the figure was a mere 99 percent.
By way of comparison, the top 20 savings & loans were considerably more even-handed in their giving patterns. In 2004, for instance, 53 percent of S&L contributions went to Republicans and 47 percent to Democrats. Among the top 10, TCF was the only organization to give exclusively to Republicans.
UPDATE: Move over, Star Tribune!
TCF Bank declines to advertise with City Pages, too
We received this email earlier today:
From: Mark Foster
Sent: Thursday, January 27, 2005 8:32 AM
Subject: RE: City Pages - Campus Page
Given the extremely mean and dispiriting articles that your paper is printing about TCF (latest article titled "TCFU"), we are not going to advertise with your paper.
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