AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Republican President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday urged people to buy from outdoors retailer L.L. Bean — even though many of its products are made in China — as it faces calls for a boycott because of a company heiress' donations to his candidacy.
Trump, in tweeting the endorsement, garnered criticism from the nonpartisan money-in-politics watchdog Every Voice for "personally encouraging his supporters to boost the companies of his super (political action committee) donors." And the endorsement unwittingly steered customers to many products made overseas, something he'd railed against during his campaign.
Trump thanked Linda Bean, a granddaughter of the company's founder, and cited her "great support and courage." He ended by saying, "Buy L.L. Bean."
Linda Bean described the backlash against her as "bullying" and "un-American" and vowed she would not step down from the company's board of directors.
"That's all they are: a small kernel of hardcore bullies out on the left coast, West Coast, in California, trying to control what we do, what we buy, what we sell in Maine," she said on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends."
Bean and the Freeport-based retailer have been targeted by anti-Trump groups following The Associated Press' reporting of her donations to the pro-Trump Making Maine Great Again PAC. The founders of #GrabYourWallet called for a boycott of L.L. Bean but said it would stop if the privately held company, known for its signature waterproof rubber-bottom boots, cut formal ties with Linda Bean.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage said the group is trying to destroy Linda Bean's reputation and damage the retailer's "iconic brand."
Trump vowed during his campaign to bring back millions of American jobs lost to China and other foreign competitors.
But L.L. Bean uses factories around the world to produce many of its goods, especially clothing, as do other American companies.
The company estimates about 75 percent of its products are imported. But it's also proud of the fact it still makes its signature boots and many other products in the United States. It produced 600,000 boots this year at factories in Maine, a spokeswoman said.
Retail analyst Walter Loeb said retailers including L.L. Bean have no choice but to look overseas for production because consumers demand low prices and retailers want to be competitive.
The Federal Election Commission said Linda Bean made excessive contributions to the PAC, which it said was limited to individual contributions of $5,000 in a year. The group is taking steps recommended by the FEC to change its registration to a super PAC, allowing it to raise unlimited funds.
On Wednesday, the pro-Trump PAC amended its filings to include donations it hadn't disclosed to the government last year.
The filings say Linda Bean donated $30,000, not $60,000 as the PAC originally reported. The filings also say a $15,000 contribution to the PAC came from Diana Bean, believed to be Linda Bean's sister. The rest came from four previously undisclosed contributors, including the PAC's chairman, David Jones.
A #GrabYourWallet co-founder, Shannan Coulter, launched the boycott effort after learning of Linda Bean's contributions.
"The reality is that there are serious repercussions for a company's brand and bottom line when consumers learn it does business with the Trump family or helped to fund Donald's rise to political power," Coulter said.
L.L. Bean Chairman Shawn Gorman has distanced the company from Linda Bean and said her political activity doesn't speak for the nine other board members and 50 family owners.
Linda Bean said her "cousin gave to (Democrat Barack) Obama four years ago" and said he donated much more than she did.
The late L.L. Bean president Leon Gorman and his wife, Lisa Gorman, hosted fundraisers for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Michaud, shelled out $70,000 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2012 and donated to members of Maine's congressional delegation, including Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. Lisa Gorman has donated to Democratic parties across the country and donated $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee last summer.
Federal campaign finance reports also show donors linked to L.L. Bean have donated to Democratic and Republican causes.
The Trump donations flap doesn't seem to have hurt L.L. Bean.
"According to my son, who's vice chairman of the board, he says there's been a slight uptick in business, actually," Linda Bean said on Fox Business Network's "Mornings with Maria."