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Publix, a company of some rectitude that is more used to positive publicity than negative, is the subject of criticism in two stories this morning.

First, from its hometown Lakeland ledger, a story about how Publix is facing calls from some quarters for a boycott of its stores because of “news reports that Publix, the family of its founder and current and past executives have donated $670,000 over the past three years to Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor.”

At issue is Putnam’s close relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA), which can be seen as problematic by people looking for more rigorous gun laws in the US. The subject has become even more prominent than usual this year because of a series of mass shootings, including the massacre of 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school in Parkland, Florida, just a couple of hundred miles southeast of Publix’s headquarters.

The Ledger writes that “Publix issued a statement last week saying its donations to Putnam should not be taken as support of the NRA, which fiercely opposes almost all restrictions on firearms. The company said it supported Putnam because he is ‘pro-business’ and hails from Polk County.”

And, Publix issued a new statement yesterday: “We regret that some of our political contributions have led to an unintentional customer divide instead of our desire to support a growing economy in Florida. ... As a result of this situation, we are evaluating our processes to ensure that our giving better reflects our intended desire to support a strong economy and a healthy community.”

The other story occurred in South Carolina, where a family ordered a custom cake to celebrate a college graduation.

Here’s what they wanted inscribed on the cake:

“Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude Class of 2018.”

"Summa cum laude," of course, is Latin for "with highest honors.” It is a common phrase at educational institutions looking to recognize their best students.

Here’s what the family got:

"Congrats Jacob! Summa — Laude Class of 2018”

After the customer who ordered the cake complained that the store had ruined the cake by misinterpreting a Latin term as a vulgarity, Publix reportedly offered to remake the cake. The customer declined, saying that “you only graduate once,” but did take a refund and a gift card.
KC's View:
First, the cake incident.

It sounds to me like the store’s baking staff was guilty of premature extrapolation.

The amazing thing is how fast this story went viral, with a ton of stories out there making (sometimes gentle, sometimes not) fun of Publix. And a great example of how careful companies have to be in the modern media climate, where even the most innocent of mistakes can get a lot of attention.

Which leads me to the boycott story.

Look, it’s a free country. People and companies can and should donate to causes and politicians to the legal degree that they care to … but again, they have to be aware of issues like these, where emotions are running both deep and hot.

I suspect that this won’t have much of an impact on Publix’s bottom line, but you never know these days. (I was interested to see that the Orlando Weekly story referred to Public as “formerly beloved.”)

Those Parkland students have shown themselves to be remarkably committed, with a sustained level of attention to this cause that only gets extended as new events occur, like the Texas school shootings. I’d want to be careful about being seen by them as insensitive to their concerns.