Before the late 1990s, Wal-Mart tended to stay out of politics. In 2004, it was one of the nation's biggest corporate contributors. Here's a look at Wal-Mart's relatively recent arrival in the nation's capital, and whom they're giving to.
As part of his firm belief in keeping the focus on the customer, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton actively tried to keep his company out of politics. Every dollar spent by the company, Walton believed, should result in a tangible benefit for the consumer. But as the company has grown to become America's largest company, it has become increasingly affected by federal policies ranging from labor laws to trade regulations and after Walton's death, Wal-Mart's management came to realize the necessity of a Washington presence.
In 1998, Wal-Mart hired its first lobbyist, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Norm Lezy, and created a political action committee (PAC), called the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. PAC for Responsible Government. According to published news reports, in 1999, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott met with Wal-Mart executives and urged them to increase the company's political profile. In six years, the company has grown from having no lobbying presence in Washington to employing six external lobbying firms (in addition to its internal operation), and becoming one of the top 20 PAC contributors to federal candidates in the 2004 election cycle. Donations to federal candidates have grown from $135,750 in 1998, to $1,606,000, as of Nov. 2, 2004. [See more on Wal-Mart's political donations from the Center for Responsive Politics.]
Wal-Mart says that it supports pro-business candidates and its political contributions on the national level overwhelmingly tilt Republican. In the 2004 cycle, the company gave $5,000 to President Bush's reelection campaign, and nothing to John Kerry's campaign. In May 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney praised the company in an economic policy speech at Wal-Mart's distribution center in Bentonville, Ark, saying: "The story of Wal-Mart exemplifies some of the very best qualities in our country -- hard work, the spirit of enterprise, fair dealing, and integrity."
In the 2004 cycle, Wal-Mart gave $1,050,500 to Republican House candidates and $195,000 to Republican Senate candidates, as compared to $273,500 to Democratic House candidates and $76,500 to Democratic Senate candidates. In 2002, 78 percent of the PAC's donations went to Republicans; in 2000, 85 percent went to Republicans; and in 1998, 93 percent went to Republicans.
Editor's Note: All numbers are drawn from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Emily Miller is a junior at Bucknell University majoring in English and political science. She served as a summer intern for Hedrick Smith Productions.