MPR board member donated to right-wing group that placed anti-Islam ads

Brad Anderson, CEO of BestBuy, at the Digital Life Design conference.
Brad Anderson, CEO of Best Buy, attends the Digital Life Design conference on Jan. 26, 2009, in Munich, Germany.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images for Burda Media 2009

Updated: April 6 3:50 p.m. | Posted: April 5 5:32 p.m.

Minnesota Public Radio board member and former Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson has confirmed he contributed $25,000 in 2016 to a right-wing group. Anderson says he does not stand by inflammatory anti-Muslim videos the group distributed over social media.

The Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets blog was the first to report Anderson and an organization linked to Best Buy founder Richard Schulze each contributed $25,000 in 2016 to Secure America Now, a so-called "dark money" organization that ran highly targeted ads designed to stoke fears of Muslims in the weeks before the 2016 election.

MPR News is still working to verify the authenticity of the tax document the report is based on, but Anderson confirmed his donation in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio News host Tom Crann.

Robert Maguire, who wrote the OpenSecrets report, told Crann that the 2016 tax return for Secure America Now, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, lists a $25,000 contribution from Olympus Ventures, an organization described as the "Family Office of Richard M. Schulze," Best Buy's founder.

Schulze's investment management firm, Olympus Ventures, said in a statement Friday that Schulze was not aware the organization, Secure America Now, had distributed the ads when the company made a 2016 contribution to the group.

"We were unaware of these ads which the organization funded until Wednesday. We informed (Schulze) who strongly condemned them and directed Olympus Ventures to cut off any further contributions to this organization or any organization which promotes hate," the company said.

Maguire's story is based on 39 pages of what OpenSecrets says is Secure America Now's 2016 tax return, along with the cover letter and filing instructions from the accounting firm that prepared the document. MPR has contacted multiple officials with the accounting firm, Spielman Koenigsberg & Parker LLP. None have commented, and MPR News' attempts to contact Secure America Now to verify the authenticity of the document have been unsuccessful.

According to a Bloomberg report cited in Maguire's post, Secure America Now worked with Facebook and Google sales and advertising staffers to aim inflammatory messages at swing-state voters who were likely to agree with the content.

The campaign included mock travel ads in which France and Germany are subject to Sharia law. It also promoted an "Islamic States of America" mock travel promo in which Syrian refugees had overtaken America. The Statue of Liberty is dressed in a burqa and holds a star and crescent.

Reached late Thursday afternoon, Anderson verified that he contributed $25,000 to Secure America Now after meeting several times with Allen Roth, the organization's president. Anderson said the two primarily discussed the security of Israel, not anything as inflammatory as the organization's "Islamic state" videos. Anderson said he never saw the videos, only learned about them Thursday afternoon, and had he known about them, would not have been willing to contribute, "not for those videos."

Anderson said there's nothing he can do about the contribution now, other than refuse to donate to Secure America Now in the future. In the interview with MPR News, Anderson pushed back against the idea that he's somehow responsible for the content of the videos.

"It seems to me hard to understand that you would expect that I would be held accountable for everything somebody subsequently does with a contribution," he said. "As an example, I've given many, many times to American Public Media, Minnesota Public Radio, and I don't always agree with things that go on the air, but I don't assume I'm responsible for every part of the enterprise."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations' Minnesota chapter called on Anderson Thursday to step down from the boards of Minnesota Public Radio and General Mills, two of the several boards he serves on.

Anderson said the call was "unbalanced," and "does not fit the circumstances," but said he "will honor whatever the companies and the boards I serve on [want]."

MPR spokesperson Angie Andresen declined to comment on the report Thursday. "We don't comment on private matters involving our board members," she said in an email.

Tiffany Moehring, spokesperson for Waste Management, Inc., a Houston-based company for which Anderson serves as non-executive chairman, also declined a request for comment. "We are unaware of the facts in this matter, and so are unable to give a comment at this time," Moehring wrote.

Carlson, a Minnetonka-based travel company on whose board of directors Anderson serves, issued a similar statement: "We do not have any information about this report. However, we have a longstanding and deep commitment to respect for and inclusion of all people. These values are fundamental to our Carlson culture."

Anderson also serves on the Mayo Clinic board of trustees. The clinic released a statement Thursday that said, in part, "Mayo condemns these ads as disrespectful and divisive. We were only recently made aware of this story and therefore can't provide comment until we look into the matter further."

Anderson retired as CEO of Best Buy in June 2009 and has served on the Minnesota Public Radio board of directors since 2003.

MPR News All Things Considered producer Sam Choo and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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