On Wednesday February 11th, 2009, the anti-Prop 8 group Californians Against Hate announced that it has targeted the Salt Lake City-based Ken Garff automotive dealerships in retaliation for $100,000 donated by the CEO's wife to supporters of a California Proposition 8, which constitutionally restricted the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. Media stories from the Salt Lake Tribune and KTVX Channel 4 (with video).
Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, said his organization is currently waging an Internet campaign to convince people to boycott the automotive's 53 dealerships in Utah, Nevada, Iowa, Texas, Indiana, and California. Karger accused CEO Bob Garff of "hiding behind his wife's skirts" by claiming the $100,000 donation was a personal gesture. At a news conference in Salt Lake City, Karger also said the cash was "a family contribution" that was derived from dealership revenues.
Garff's wife, Katharine, gave to ProtectMarriage.com a week before the November 4th election that overturned a state Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, according to filings with the California Secretary of State's Office.
Although Katharine Garff herself is out of town, her son, John Garff, who is company president, said the donation was "a personal decision based on my mother's personal conviction of marriage. It had nothing to do with my father, who supported her decision, with me or with the company. Our company has been politically neutral for decades. We literally spend zero to a few hundred dollars annually on political or lobbying campaigns of any kind."
Garff also pointed to the company policy against harassment or discrimination of any kind in the workplace, and benefit packages that are favorable for gay and lesbian employees.
But in classical extremist fashion, Karger brushed aside those efforts, saying gay marriage is a matter of civil rights and equal rights. But Karger said he welcomed the possibility of meeting with Garff company officials. And shortly after the news conference, John Garff invited him to company headquarters on Main Street. The results of the meeting are reported in a separate Salt Lake Tribune story.
According to the Tribune, the two-hour Wednesday meeting between John Gargg and Fred Karger was both amicable and productive, although the boycott is still on. Garff and Karger both said a resolution to the conflict was in the works.
For the time being, both Karger and Garff agreed to keep the substance of their settlement discussions confidential, but both confirmed that Karger was drafting a proposal for steps the company might take to resolve the boycott, following the pair's meeting late Wednesday at Garff offices. "Fred and I focused on common ground, and there is plenty of common ground", Garff said of their meeting, adding that the exchange included details of the company's extensive history of support for Utah's gay and lesbian community.
Meanwhile, Karger called the meeting with Garff a good healthy dialogue and said he hoped his call for customers to stay away from Garff dealerships could be withdrawn soon, though he refused to be specific about a time frame. Karger said the group's Internet site, BoycottKenGarffAutomotive.com, and other Internet-based efforts would remain active until final details of the settlement were worked out.
In addition to having a nondiscriminatory policy on hiring and employment, Garff Automotive is also an annual donor to the pro-gay rights Human Rights Campaign and has donated vehicles to the Utah Pride parade, along with a range of other diversity-promoting causes.
But other gay rights organizations are not jumping aboard the boycott bandwagon. Jerry Rapier, Utah's representative on the Human Rights Campaign's national board of governors, confirmed that annual donations from the Garff company made up a sizable share of corporate largess for the group's banquet and silent auction. And Rapier, speaking only for himself, said the boycott call offends him and seems shortsighted.
Garff and his father, former Utah House Speaker and Salt Lake Olympic organizer Bob Garff, have both characterized Katharine Garff's donation to Prop 8 -- the fifth-largest made by any Utahn -- as a personal gesture, unrelated to the company. "We are a politically neutral company and we always have been," John Garff said.
Analysis: This is basically a political mugging by Californians Against Hate. Despite Garff Automotive bending over backwards for gays, Karger is disregarding it and seizing upon a single personal issue to justify his "boycott". Notice how eager Karger was to participate in a meeting with Garff, out of which it is rumored that Garff Automotive will give even more money to gay rights groups. It's all about the money.
This is little more than an extortion campaign, no different than the extortion campaigns conducted against Denny's and Cracker Barrel by the black civil rights lobby.