Congressional Update - Written by Jere Beasley on Monday, August 11, 2008 14:25 - 0 Comments

Sam Walton Would Turn Over In His Grave

Sam Walton was strongly opposed to lobbying governments at any level, but things have certainly changed since he passed away. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, increased its lobbying budget by a whopping 60% in 2007. The company spent $4 million to influence the government on issues ranging from energy efficiency to retail crime. While its lobbying budget is still labeled “pocket change” compared with other major trade groups and corporations, Wal-Mart’s increased spending marks a growing recognition that the company’s bottom line is subject to what happens in Washington. In 2006, the company spent about $2.5 million in lobbying dollars, up from $1.6 million in 2005. But less than a decade ago, Wal-Mart barely broke the six-figure mark. This was said to be due largely to Sam Walton’s strong dislike for lobbying. He would most likely turn over in his grave if he could see how Wal-Mart operates today. Wal-Mart spent $140,000 in 1999, after establishing a Washington shop about ten years ago. It spent about $1 million annually for the next several years, before increasing its lobbying representation and funds in 2005 amid increased criticism of its labor practices and benefits.

The company has 12 registered lobbyists now, up from two in 1999. Wal-Mart also has worked with a number of outside lobbying firms, including Patton Boggs LLP, the Podesta Group Inc., and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. for the last few years. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has easily outspent its major rivals, Target Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp., and Macy’s Inc. In fact, the latter two aren’t even registered to lobby. Wal-Mart also outdistanced the top retail trade group, the National Retail Federation, which spent about $1.7 million last year. However, Wal-Mart didn’t move into the “K Street stratosphere” of major trade groups and veteran corporate lobbyists.

The drug industry trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, spent $22 million in 2007, while Corp., the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, spent $17 million. Wal-Mart lobbied on numerous issues, including a food stamp program, free trade, consumer product safety legislation, and energy efficiency standards, and pushed for tougher enforcement of organized retail crime. It also lobbied for a bank license, although it dropped its bid last year after it was strongly opposed by banks, unions, and other critics. It continues to push for the ability to offer other financial services, such as prepaid Visa debit cards for millions of low-income shoppers who don’t have bank accounts.

Wal-Mart has never really had good employee health-insurance benefits and in recent years hasn’t treated its employees very well. The company lobbied against legislation that would allow employees to form, join, or help labor organizations. As you probably know, Wal-Mart employees aren’t unionized. The company – which lobbied , the White House, the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the Commerce and Labor Departments, among other agencies – spent more than $2.2 million in the second half of 2007 to lobby the federal government, according to a disclosure form posted online in February by the Senate’s public records office. It spent nearly $1.8 million in the first six months of 2007 to lobby on similar matters.

As you may know, lobbyists are required to disclose activities that could influence members of the executive and legislative branches, under a federal law enacted in 1995. If the next President will take on the powerful lobbyists in our nation’s capitol and break their stranglehold on government, we will all be much better off. That task will be very difficult, but it’s one that must be taken on and completed as soon as possible. In my opinion, the future of our country depends on it.

Source: Associated Press

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