Is it fair to boycott L.L. Bean over Donald Trump donation?

Some L.L. Bean customers say they will boycott the company since learning that brand heir Linda Bean supported a political action committee to help Donald Trump.

Pat Wellenbach/AP/File
Eric Rego stitches boots in the facility where LL Bean boots are assembled in Brunswick, Maine.

L.L. Bean is known for pushing boots, coats, and tents – not politics. But amid recent accusations that one of the family-owned brand’s members made illegal contributions to help President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign, the company is trying to quell tensions and fight back against a boycott of its products.

Following Federal Election Commission allegations that claim L.L. Bean heiress and board member Linda Bean gave some $55,000 in excess of donation limits to a political action committee supporting Mr. Trump for president, an online campaign seeking to boycott businesses with Trump-family ties added the company to its group of blacklisted retailers.

The Maine-based outdoor goods purveyor says the company-wide denunciation is unfair, and that L.L. Bean seeks to keep itself out of the political fray. The company, which says it has 5,000 employees and donates tens of millions of dollars to nonprofits benefitting the environment as well as state and local causes nationwide, has emphasized that the boycott would affect more than just Ms. Bean. 

“We are deeply troubled by the portrayal of L.L.Bean as a supporter of any political agenda,” Shawn Gorman, the company’s executive chairman, wrote in a statement on L.L.Bean’s Facebook page. “L.L.Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters, or make political contributions. Simply put, we stay out of politics. To be included in this boycott campaign is simply misguided, and we respectfully request that Grab Your Wallet reverse its position.”

The boycott campaign, known as Grab Your Wallet, began in October following the release of an Access Hollywood tape in which Trump made lewd comments about women. It advocates for boycotts of retailers that carry Trump products, and includes New Balance, Wal-Mart, Kmart, and several dozen others.

Grab Your Wallet co-founder Shannon Coulter says Bean’s illegal contributions to the campaign, which go beyond the general means of supporting a political candidate, should have consequences for the company, and that its customers have a right to understand what goes on behind the scenes of their favorite retailers.

“I understand why L.L. Bean is concerned, but they need to face the reality there are repercussions for their company’s brand and bottom line when consumers learn what their leaders are up to in terms of their politics,” Coulter told the Portland Press Herald. “If L.L. Bean thinks a part-owner and board member can engage in this activity and have it not affect their bottom line, that’s very naive.”

But L.L. Bean maintains that its diverse, 10-member board boasts a variety of views. The connections between its executives, employees, and customers stems from passion for the outdoors and environmental stewardship, not a plot to elect a preferred candidate to the presidency.

“Our owners, employees, and customers hold views and embrace causes that are individual and diverse,” Mr. Gorman’s statement said. “We are united by our love for the outdoors and our guiding principles established back in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean himself who believed ‘do unto others’ was not just a saying, but a way of life.”

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