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Working In These Times

Thursday, Jun 9, 2011, 9:06 am

Report: Walmart Tries to Hide Right-Wing Donations

BY Kari Lydersen

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Activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on March 29, 2011. The court is reviewing a lawsuit alleging that Walmart discriminates against female employees.   (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In recent years, Walmart has done much to mitigate its image as a big box super villain, even as it faces complaints from one of the largest gender discrimination lawsuits in history and countless other allegations of exploitative labor practices.

Part of Walmart’s public image makeover has been to cast itself as a politically moderate company that donates as much to Democrats as to Republicans.

After it was revealed that in 2008 Walmart officials held meetings telling managers that voting for Barack Obama would mean “inviting unions in,” the company apparently launched a media initiative to show it was donating as much or more to Democrats in the 2010 elections. The move to cast itself as supportive of Democrats appears to be part of the company’s push to open more stores in urban and higher-income areas with more progressive and more highly educated residents.

But a new report by the group Walmart Watch analyzed the company’s political giving and found that in the 2010 elections, the company and the founding Walton family still disproportionately supported right-wing candidates and Democrats with more right-wing positions.

While the Walmart PAC’s donations to Democrats were slightly greater than to Republicans for federal candidates and leadership PACs ($922,000 versus $920,050), when it came to Walmart PAC donations to party committees, state-level contributions and the Walton family’s contributions, Republicans received exponentially more donations.

In state races, the Walmart PAC donated $1.8 million to Republicans and only $550,000 to Democrats. The Walton family donated more than $600,000 to Republicans at various levels, and only $62,000 to Democrats. In all, according to Walmart Watch, in 2010 $3.5 million in Walmart and Walton dollars went to Republicans and only $1.5 million to Democrats.

Not surprisingly, Walmart’s contributions to Democrats were also geared toward Democrats with conservative social and fiscal stances. The Blue Dog Democrats represented only 21 percent of Congress in 2010, according to Walmart Watch, but received 45 percent of the Walmart PAC’s donations. The Walmart PAC also gave disproportionately to Congressmen aligned with the Tea Party—Tea Party members made up 12 percent of the House before the 2010 elections, but received 19 percent of Walmart PAC’s donations in Congressional races.  

A press release for the report, "What’s Right: Walmart’s Words vs. Walmart’s Political Priorities," says it

shows how the company and Walton family have wielded their resources to undermine the interests of Walmart’s core customers and associates, and at times, even the legislation Walmart supposedly supports.

For example, despite Walmart’s public support of healthcare reform in 2010, 65 percent of recipients of contributions from Walmart’s PAC or the Walton family in the House of Representatives voted against healthcare reform.

The report notes that Walmart has lobbied against bills that would mandate greater disclosure of political contributions, perhaps to try to control its image.

The report also catalogues how Walmart has increased its political influence through lobbying exponentially in recent years, spending between $6 million and $7.4 million between 2006 and 2008. The report says:

Company founder Sam Walton didn’t think Walmart should be involved in politics, which kept the company out of Washington for a long time. Walmart hired its first lobbyist in 1999, and its lobbying activities have increased dramatically since then.

A majority of Walmart customers and employees are middle-income or low-income, but through its donations and lobbying efforts the company consistently works against the interest of these groups, the report said. For example, Walmart lobbied aggressively to defeat measures for expanded early childhood education and healthcare for the uninsured in California. Labor-related issues have also been in the forefront of Walmart’s lobbying efforts.

Though Walmart claims to maintain transparency in its supply chain labor practices, its contribution recipients voted against the public interest on this issue as well. SB 657, which was passed into law in 2010, required large manufacturers and retailers to disclose their efforts to eliminate human trafficking and slave labor from their supply chains.

Similar to its role in the national healthcare debate, Walmart maintained one position in its dealings with the public but gave money to candidates who consistently opposed the measure: 28 Walmart contribution recipients voted against SB 657, two were present and not voting, and one voted in favor of it.

Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based reporter, author and journalism professor at Medill at Northwestern University, where she is fellowship director of the Social Justice News Nexus. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99 Percent., Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun and Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis.

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