I don’t like Linda Bean’s politics.
She politically, and financially, supports candidates and policies that are opposite of my beliefs. That’s her right. I don’t have to like it. And neither do you.
But L.L Bean is a different story. The company and its positive impact on Maine is bigger and longer lasting than any single member of the large family who owns it. The company has earned its positive reputation and has turned out some of the most compassionate leaders in the state.
L.L. Bean doesn’t need me to defend it, but I will.
The company is facing a boycott from a liberal group called Grab Your Wallet, which is encouraging its supporters to punish businesses that supported President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump is unfit to serve as president, and I understand what Grab Your Wallet is hoping to do. But they are taking aim at the wrong company.
The boycott is the result of news coverage that Linda Bean, a granddaughter of Leon Leonwood Bean – the founder of the company – and a member of the company’s board, supported Trump. She is accused of violating campaign finance laws by contributing $60,000 to a political action committee supporting the president-elect. The limit for such contributions is $5,000.
Shannon Coulter, the co-founder of Grab Your Wallet, told the Portland Press Herald, that L.L. Bean needed to understand that “there are repercussions for their company’s brand and bottom line when consumers learn what their leaders are up to in terms of politics.”
I agree. So let’s talk about what the company’s leaders have been up too. There’s a lot more to L.L. Bean than the political activity of one member of the family.
L.L. Bean is the fifth largest employer in Maine, with between 4,501 and 5,000 employees, according to the Maine Department of Labor.
More than that, the company has been a steadfast believer in the state, investing here when other companies have moved away.
Despite the disadvantages, the company has kept its headquarters in Maine. And even though it would be cheaper to make them elsewhere, L.L. Bean manufacturers its iconic Bean Boots at factories in Brunswick and Lewiston.
L.L. Bean also drives a hard bargain with other companies that it does business with, encouraging them to locate or expand in Maine.
But the commitment of the extended Bean family to our state goes even further.
The late Leon Gorman, who was the grandson of the company’s founder and who served as the company’s president and chairman of the board, is one of the most impressive and compassionate people I’ve ever known.
He built L.L. Bean into the retail giant that it is today, but he also gave of himself to countless causes, including volunteering without fanfare every week for 12 years at Preble Street Resource Center, a homeless shelter in Portland. He started volunteering as a dishwasher and worked his way up to the grill, a post that had to be earned.
He and his wife, Lisa, helped to create the Foundation for Maine’s Community College, and donated millions of dollars to ensure thousands of Maine students could go to college.
And really, that just scratches the surface. Leon and Lisa’s philanthropy extends to numerous causes.
There’s also John T. Gorman, Leon’s brother, who founded the John T. Gorman Foundation, which has a mission of helping and supporting disadvantaged Maine residents. The foundation’s work includes improving education for Maine children, helping struggling families and keeping low-income seniors in their homes.
The work that Leon and Tom have done in Maine has not only changed lives, it has saved lives.
L.L. Bean itself also has a striking history of philanthropy. According to the company, it’s donated more than $14 million to conservation organizations in the last 10 years and more than $6 million to health and human services organizations. Total giving for the period is close to $30 million.
In December, the company announced $2.1 million in grants to nonprofits for 2017, which includes money for education, to fight homelessness and for conservation. They are also supporting the arts, through the Bangor Folk Festival and the Maine State Music Theater.
Responding to the boycott, Shawn Gorman, the L.L. Bean executive chairman, took the high road. He explained that the company doesn’t take political positions, that members of the family naturally have different political views, as do the company’s employees and customers.
“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,” Gorman wrote.
I don’t think this poorly aimed boycott will have much of an impact on L.L. Bean. Even without all the good the company does, the fact is it also sells quality products – some of them made right here – and backs them up with the best service and returns policy that I know of. If the jeans I got for Christmas help Linda Bean, I know that they also helped Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, the community colleges and countless other causes. I can live with that trade.
This is one anti-Trump liberal who supports L.L. Bean and recognizes what this family and business mean to the state. I’m grabbing my wallet, but instead of joining the boycott, I’m placing an order at L.L. Bean.