Milwaukee-based retail giant Kohl's says 'No' to sponsoring Republican convention events

A Kohl’s department store sign hangs outside the building on March 12, 2024 in Miami, Florida. Shares of Kohl’s fell as it posted a drop in same-store sales in the fourth quarter. 

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Milwaukee based department store giant Kohl’s says it will not sponsor any events related to the Republican National Convention in that city this summer, where Donald Trump will be crowned the party’s nominee for president.

“Kohl’s is not a political organization nor donor and is not sponsoring nor engaging in any specific RNC events,” a spokeswoman for the company told CNBC. “We support the business community through the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.”

The convention is expected to bring around 50,000 people to the Brew City from July 15 – 18, culminating in Trump’s all but certain acceptance of his party’s nomination on the final night.

The announcement comes as both Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to secure corporate support for their party conventions at a time when many big name brands are trying to stay far away from politics.

Fiserv is among Wisconsin’s largest companies on the Fortune 500 planning to directly sponsor the convention. ManpowerGroup and Kohl’s are not.

ManpowerGroup told CNBC it is supporting the nonprofit Milwaukee 2024 Host Committee through donations to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

“We have not directly provided funds to the RNC but rather MMAC has provided funds on our and others behalf, just like they did for the DNC [Democratic National Convention],” a spokeswoman said.

Northwestern Mutual is on the host committee and its CEO John Schlifske is reportedly helping to raise money for the group.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in his first presidential campaign in 2016. But he lost the state to President Joe Biden in 2020. The state is viewed by both Republicans and Democrats as a must-win this November.

Kohl’s has not funded either the Republican or Democratic conventions for over a decade, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

In 2002, the company donated $10,000 to the Republican National Committee’s state elections committee, with funds mostly dedicated to GOP state parties, according to FEC records. The state’s late Democratic senator, Herb Kohl, was president of his family-founded company until the late 1970s.

The absence of Kohl’s from the list of Republican convention sponsors notable, given that convention organizers have publicly touted the importance of Wisconsin-based companies helping to fund and organize the event.

Former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus, who is chair of the city’s host committee, told The Wall Street Journal that virtually all of Wisconsin’s Fortune 500 companies have pledged financial support. The Republican convention is aiming to raise roughly $70 million.

Representatives for the Republican National Committee and the Milwaukee host committee did not return requests for comment.

Kohl’s’ decision to hold off on donating to the convention coincides with the company’s renewed effort to find its footing in a competitive market.

Kohl’s is chasing a turnaround and trying to capitalize on its locations in suburban strip malls, especially as rival Macy’s closes about 150 of its namesake stores.

Yet, the company’s sales have been shrinking and it has relied on an aging customer base as it competes with an expanding field of retail competitors, including Target, Shein and Amazon.

Kohl’s stock tumbled more than 20% earlier this month, after it missed Wall Street’s expectations for earnings and revenue.

It’s been trying to woo younger shoppers by opening more Sephora shops inside of Kohl’s, adding Babies R Us shops and expanding its mix of trendier merchandise, such as more fashion-forward apparel and a larger department of home décor.

CNBC’s Melissa Repko contributed to this story.

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