Wal-Mart's Right-wing Agenda

10-13-08, 2:48 pm

To the tune of tens of millions of dollars, multinational retail giant Wal-Mart has been funding a right-wing political agenda, according to the Web site . That Web site, which is a project of WalMartWatch.com, says Wal-Mart has provided funds to PACs, industry trade groups, and lobbyists in order to gain access to Congress and state governments.

Wal-Mart PAC money has been spent on efforts 'to avoid paying taxes, weaken or block environmental regulations, resist corporate transparency, hinder workers rights, block enhanced port security and tighter regulations on food safety,' the Web site states.

According to inside company information, Wal-Mart's PAC, the Wal-Mart PAC for Responsible Government, has used a scheme of matching donations for political purposes made by stockholders, corporate executives, and other management personnel with donations from corporate profits to the company's charity, Wal-Mart Employees in Critical Need Fund. Those charitable donations, made in the name of political donors, are tax deductible.

This matching scheme was used to raise millions to successfully lobby in 2001 against a Patient's Bill of Rights, according to . And since 1998, the company appears to have spent $20 million to lobby against or to skirt state and federal tax laws. For example, media reports indicate that when a California ballot initiative would have imposed higher corporate taxes on companies like Wal-Mart who refuse to provide affordable health care benefits, the company spent $500,000 to defeat the measure. Contributions from the Wal-Mart PAC went into Maryland's former Republican Gov. Robert Erhlich's campaign coffers to ensure his veto of a similar measure in his state in 2005.

Also in 2005, Minnesota tried to pass a law requiring state agencies to unearth data on whether or not people employed at large companies like Wal-Mart received public assistance. The measure was that state's response to revelations that Wal-Mart, instead of providing affordable health care benefits to its employees, had encouraged them to seek public assistance for health care. Wal-Mart PAC money paid lobbyists to travel to St. Paul to meet each member of the legislature to express the company's opposition to the bill's passage.

Wal-Mart has also used its considerable political influence to manipulate tax laws to avoid tens of millions of dollars in state corporate taxes. For example, between 2000 and 2003, according to a study by WalMartWatch.com, the company used federal loopholes to skip out on paying about $64 million to the state of Wisconsin. From its stores in that state alone, the company took about $852 million in net profits out of the state.

In addition to lobbying against health care measures and avoiding its fair share of the tax burden, the multinational corporation, which netted about $12 billion in profits last year alone, also regularly fights environmental protections. Just this year, Wal-Mart PAC money helped the company lobby against regulations that would have reduced carbon emissions that cause global warming.

Wal-Mart has also heavily subsidized industry trade groups like the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Food Marketing Institute. According to various media reports, these industry groups have 'lobbied against port security measures, living wage ordinances, country-of-origin labeling, and health care reform.'

In fact, the Congressional Quarterly reported that Wal-Mart specifically sought to use its membership in groups like this to hide its political agenda from the public.

But the company's political agenda isn't limited to thwarting laws or rules in order to fatten the company's bottom line. The Walton family has spent millions to fund Republican Party-linked groups that lobby for Social Security privatization, de-funding public schools, and reducing the estate tax.

As much as the company and the Walton family would like to hide these activities, they are unfortunately usually legal. The multinational retail giant's political activities may not always be above board, however. Several recent media reports, for example, showed that the company may have engaged in illegal electioneering when it held mandatory meetings that seemed to tell employees how to vote in this year's presidential election. Several workers who wished to remain anonymous told various media outlets that company managers warned them that electing Barack Obama and the Democrats would harm the company. Others stated that managers flat out told them to vote for John McCain.

--Reach Joel Wendland at