Documents reveal Walmart ties to secretive GOP group

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Documents released this week show substantial funds flowing from Walmart to the Republican Governors Policy Committee, the secretive 501(c)(4) arm of the Republican Governors Association. A schedule from a group symposium last year shows that Walmart contributed to the policy committee at the highest level—$250,000 and up—along with Koch Companies Public Sector, Exxon Mobil, Aetna, and others. Eric Brewer, Walmart’s Senior Director for Public Affairs and Government Relations, attended the meeting on behalf of the company.

The newly revealed documents shed light on a shadowy corner of money in politics, where company officials are given access to decision makers in exchange for contributions, in this case to a group that does not have to disclose its donors. As the New York Times explains, “the tax-exempt Republican Governors Public Policy Committee is not required to disclose anything, even as donors hit the links, rub shoulders and trade policy talk with governors and their top staff members.”

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, told the Times, “This is a classic example of how corporations are trying to use secret money, hidden from the American people, to buy influence, and how the governors association is selling it.”

Walmart has a long history of giving big to GOP candidates and committees at the state level, perhaps a more impactful option as Congress continues to deadlock on so many issues. Since 2004, Walmart has given more than $1.7 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, the group that led the 2010 Republican takeover of state legislatures. Over that same time period, 81% of Walmart’s contributions to candidates and party committees at the state level, more than $7 million, went to Republicans, according to data from Follow the Money.

As a result of the successful Republican takeovers in recent years, harmful right-wing policies have begun to emerge in places like North Carolina. There, the state legislature’s GOP majority drafted a budget and policies to make cuts to public education, cut unemployment and Medicaid benefits, and suppress voting rights—all things potentially harmful to Walmart workers and shoppers alike.

Watchdog Groups, Employee-Shareholders File FEC Complaint Alleging that Walmart is Running Illegal PAC Scheme

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Groups are alleging that Walmart illegally pushes associates into contributing to its political action committee, circumventing a federal law that bars companies from putting corporate funds into political campaigns.

Public CitizenCommon Cause and two Walmart employees and shareholders filed a charge with the Federal Elections Committee today. In the complaint, the two employee-shareholders, Cynthia Murray and Evelyn Cruz, allege in detail a program in which Walmart reportedly solicits the company’s managers to donate to Walmart’s PAC. In exchange, Walmart reportedly pledged to donate twice the amount of those contributions to its Associates in Critical Need Trust.

This complaint argues that this program is illegal under the Federal Election Campaign Act, which bars companies from making contributions to federal candidates, parties, or PACs.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen noted that “Wal-Mart is attempting to evade this law by providing a 2-to-1 charitable match from corporate coffers for any campaign contribution to its PAC from company managers. That flouts the law by using substantial corporate money to reward campaign contributors.”

In the past, the FEC has approved some charitable matching schemes, but those programs have been limited to a 1-to-1 match or less, with each donor choosing the benefiting charity-not the company as in this case.

The likes of this funding scheme by Walmart has never been approved by the FEC.  Here, the reportedly 200% matching rate provides such a powerful incentive that the campaign contributions lose their “voluntary” nature.  And these corporate contributions reportedly made exclusively to Walmart’s own charity, along with the campaign contributions to Walmart’s PAC, are simply self-serving for the company.

Murray, who has worked at a Walmart store in Laurel, Md., for 15 years and owns shares in the company, pointed out that such schemes are a fundamental challenge to our country’s democracy:

Multibillion-dollar corporations like Walmart are able to skirt the rules that the rest of us follow. With the majority of Walmart workers being paid less than $25,000, it’s not surprising that Walmart needs to set up a fund to help employees in need. Most of us are in need every day. With more than $16 billion in annual profits, Walmart can afford to pay us more instead of paying expensive lawyers to help them manipulate electoral laws and taxpayers.

Like Murray said, data from Open Secrets shows that since the 2000 election cycle, Walmart’s PAC has spent over $13 million on federal elections, which has gained the company outsized influence on our democratic process.

Common Cause President Miles Rapoport says, “It’s breathtaking. Walmart is running a cynical and likely illegal scheme to get its underpaid workers to help the company leverage its economic power in the political sphere.” The actions that warranted the FEC charge fall in line with Walmart’s chronically bad behavior when it comes to pushing others down and bending and breaking rules to get ahead.

Additionally, since the 2000 election cycle, the Walmart PAC has given more than $2.5 million to members of the U.S. House of Representatives who opposed increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 last year. Among House members who voted on the proposed minimum wage increase, nearly two-thirds of the Walmart PAC’s contributions went to those who voted no. The Washington Post has reported that Walmart’s lobbying disclosures suggest it started lobbying last year on the minimum wage and Fair Minimum Wage Act, despite public statements that it is “neutral” on the issue.

Reportedly pressuring employees for political donations and lobbying against increasing the minimum wage tell us one thing: it’s clear that Walmart truly doesn’t care about the well-being of its associates.

To see the FEC complaint, click here.

Wal-Mart, Don’t Discount the Power of Teachers

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The following guest post is from Amber Rain Chandler, a teacher in western New York.

At the end of July, I was inundated with Facebook posts telling me about Wal-Mart’s Teacher Appreciation Week. How were teachers like me appreciated exactly? We could get an e-card for 10 percent back on “qualifying” purchases of supplies, basically a glorified gift card for the store.

But let’s be clear: Teachers know that Wal-Mart is not giving us or our schools anything meaningful to genuinely make a difference in the education of our kids. To the contrary, Wal-Mart’s “appreciation” for teachers has been to spend an incredible amount of money to discredit and shut out the voice of teachers, who are the ones who are the closest to students and need to be involved in the decisions about their education.

In New York state, Wal-Mart has been funneling massive amounts of money to privatize education and all but wipe out public education. In the past few years, the Walton Family Foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to New York groups leading the push to “reform” schools using charter schools and vouchers. One of these groups spent more than $50,000 on the last two Buffalo school board races. How will our community in western New York move forward when research shows that what works is not privatization, but giving students in public schools a rich curriculum with well-supported, well-trained teachers, and the right mix of academic interventions, wraparound services and other needed resources. Privatization is Wal-Mart’s magic bullet. If Wal-Mart truly wants to make an impact on education, it could start with helping to overcome the unrelenting poverty in the city of Buffalo and the widening academic achievement gap, or by providing funds for enough language teachers to address the huge English-as-a-second-language (ELL) population in western New York. Educators, parents and school boards need to recognize that Wal-Mart’s “philanthropy” is in name only; instead, it is shamelessly creating generational poverty. When students come to school from homes where parents have lost their jobs, and where parents’ work does not provide a living wage, the students suffer.

Sure, with the deep school budget cuts over the past several years, I can understand why schools are so tempted to grab whatever cash they can get. Budget cuts have decimated the teaching staff, creating larger class sizes and the loss of electives. Can I attribute this directly to Wal-Mart? No, but they have influence with groups that promote privatization over fixing our neighborhood public schools. Educators do not want any part of a Wal-Mart agenda.

Wal-Mart’s ads about its appreciation for teachers are not really about helping teachers or students. Rather, it is all about a public relations scheme to appear supportive of education while luring shoppers to patronize its stores. The reality is that many of us would rather shop at a store that not only provides discounts, but also honors American values and genuinely values public school teachers.

So, I’m countering those Facebook posts and ads with messages of my own. During this back-to-school season, I’m letting my friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook know that I’m not shopping at Wal-Mart. Instead, I’m sharing the facts to show another side of Wal-Mart’s happy face.

Teachers won’t be fooled with coupons. We’re not going to put money behind a corporation that doesn’t have our students’ best interest at heart.

My message to Wal-Mart is simple: Don’t discount the power of teachers.

 

AmberAmber Rain Chandler teaches seventh-grade English Language Arts at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, N.Y. Amber also teaches Methods in English Teaching at Medaille College and leads staff development on Differentiation for the Southtown Teachers Center.

This post originally appeared on MomsRising.org.

Walmart Workers Lead Candle-Lit March to Walmart Heir’s Estate in Lead Up to Shareholders’ Meeting

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OUR Walmart momsLast night, more than 100 Walmart workers and their community supporters gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, for a town hall meeting on the growing inequality that impacts all of us in this country.

From there, the group headed out into the evening on a candle-lit march to the home of Walmart heir and Board Chair Rob Walton. In front of the gates of this Walton estate out in the desert, workers carried flags reading “moms won’t be silenced.”

Workers held the meeting and march to call on Rob Walton to respect workers’ right to speak out without fear of retaliation or step down as board chair given his many failures in leadership. One of six Walton heirs and majority owners of Walmart, Rob has failed to address basic concerns over wages, worker treatment and corporate controls, while he has continued to enrich his family – already the wealthiest in America – at the cost of millions of workers in Walmart’s stores and throughout its supply chain.

Walmart workers have had enough and they will not stay silent. Until Rob Walton steps down or Walmart consistently enacts worker-friendly policies, OUR Walmart will be continue to speak out against retaliation.

This post originally appeared on the Walmart Watch blog.

Supreme Court opens the flood gates to even more Walton money in politics

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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down certain limits on individuals’ federal campaign contributions, with a ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. The Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the cap on the aggregate amount that an individual can give directly to candidates for federal office, federal political action committees, and federal party committees.

The McCutcheon decision opens the door to dramatically increased federal election spending by wealthy, politically-motivated donors like the Waltons. A report from Demos and U.S. PIRG found that without an individual limit on campaign spending, more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from a small segment of elite donors is likely to come in through the 2020 election cycle.

With some of the deepest pockets in America, members of the Walton family have brushed up against the individual aggregate limit year after year. And the Waltons’ political priorities are well-documented. Their contributions further a personal, ideological agenda that is anti-woman, anti-environment, anti-minimum wage, and pro-gun.

Individual Walton federal contributions by year

2012

2010

2008

Individual aggregate limit

$117,000

$115,500

$108,200

Jim Walton

$112,000

$114,900

$107,300

Lynne Walton

$105,800

$111,500

$107,100

Alice Walton

$78,300

$93,900

$104,900


Analysis of data from
FEC.gov and Open Secrets

Already, a small group of donors has major influence on the political process. The Sunlight Foundation reports, “More than a quarter of the nearly $6 billion in contributions from identifiable sources in the last campaign cycle came from just 31,385 individuals, a number equal to one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population…the 1% of the 1%.” In 2012, no member of the House or Senate won election without help from this group. And this small group includes some familiar names: Alice, Christy, Jim, Lynne, Rob, Tillie, and Sam R. Walton are all part of this 1% of 1%.

Federal law had set caps on the total amount individuals could contribute to all candidates as well as the total amount that individuals could give to PACs and parties. For the 2011-2012 election cycle, the caps were $46,200 to all candidates and $70,800 to all PACs and parties, which added up to an aggregate limit of $117,000, more than twice the annual income of the average American household. Without those limits, extremely wealthy donors like the Waltons will be able to spend upwards of $3.5 million every election cycle—not including super PAC contributions!—to influence the democratic process.

In 2012, over half of the contributions from Jim Walton and his wife Lynne went to two Republican committees: the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($30,800 apiece, the 2012 maximum contribution to party a committee) and the National Republican Congressional Committee ($30,400 each). Without an aggregate limit on individual contributions, the Waltons could hypothetically write many more $30,000+ checks to other national party committees in the current cycle. They’ve already gotten started: in March 2013, Jim and Lynne each wrote $30,800 checks to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. At $123,200, Jim and Lynne Walton have given more money to the Republican party this cycle than Charles and David Koch.

Walmart CEO Acknowledges Lack of Opportunities for Workers

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This article was originally posted by the Retail Justice Alliance.

Walmart-Opportunity-300x300A recent AP article by Josh Boak finds that Walmart—our country’s largest employer—does not provide its employees with enough opportunities for professional advancement or a pathway to a middle class life. As a result of the Great Recession, many older and more educated workers are turning to the retail giant as a way to support their families. And despite the retail giant’s self-promotion as a source for professional opportunity, Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., suggests that workers look elsewhere if they want to make more money and have access to better benefits.

“Some people took those jobs because they were the only ones available and haven’t been able to figure out how to move out of that,” Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press.

If Walmart employees “can go to another company and another job and make more money and develop, they’ll be better,” Simon explained. “It’ll be better for the economy. It’ll be better for us as a business, to be quite honest, because they’ll continue to advance in their economic life.”

Walmart’s sheer scale in size means that its low-wage, part-time business practices have an enormous impact on our country’s labor, business, and employment climate, and the company’s profits before people business strategy has influenced other retailers to do the same. That’s why Walmart workers across the country are taking the lead in the fight to change the way the retail giant does business.

Since its inception, former and current Walmart workers who are members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) have called on the retailer to publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours so that no worker at Walmart makes less than $25,000 per year. OUR Walmart members have also asked the retailer to stop its practice of retaliating against workers who are simply exercising their right to speak out for a better life and improved working conditions.

Too many Walmart workers like Joanna Lopez are struggling to survive on low wages with insufficient hours and are relying on taxpayer funded programs like food stamps to make ends meet.

Simon’s suggestion that many Walmart employees might be better off leaving for other jobs surprised Wal-Mart cashier Joanna Lopez. A 26-year-old single mother, she owns no car and lives with her church pastor near Fremont, Calif. She collects food stamps and receives insurance through California’s version of Medicaid.

Lopez started at Wal-Mart as a temp in August 2011, after being unable to land a hospital job with her associate’s degree. Her pay has risen from $8 an hour to $9.20, after she moved from part time to full time. The suggestion by a Wal-Mart executive that some employees might be staying too long offended her.

“To me, that’s an utter humiliation,” Lopez said. “How can you sit there and have management say that we should find other jobs because this place is ‘no bueno?’”

As the largest retail employer in the country, Walmart can and should lead the way in making sure that retail jobs are good jobs—the kind that come with good benefits and wages for all workers. If Walmart would listen to—and respect—its workers, it could help to rebuild our country’s economy and strengthen America’s middle class.

Is Walmart “neutral” on the minimum wage in its lobbying meetings too?

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Walmart spokesperson David Tovar told Bloomberg this week that Walmart was “looking at” its position on the proposed federal minimum wage hike. A different company spokesperson quickly corrected the story, telling Reuters that Walmart’s position hadn’t changed at all and that the company remains “neutral” on the issue. Of course, two of the major business groups connected to Walmart—the National Retail Federation and the Chamber of Commerce—have voiced strong opposition to the measure, but Walmart maintains that it’s neutral, and Walmart and the Waltons’ history of political giving shows a preference for politicians who vote against raising the minimum wage.

Over at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog today, Lydia DePillis adds some interesting insight into Walmart’s activities on the issue, noting that the company reported lobbying on the minimum wage proposal in the fourth quarter of 2013 (reports for the start of 2014 haven’t been filed yet):

And yet, lobbying disclosure reports suggest that [Walmart] might have made up its mind as recently as the end of last year: Its $1,950,000 bill for in-house government relations in the fourth quarter includes a line about “Discussions regarding minimum wage and the Fair Minimum Wage Act (S. 460),” which would raise the wage to $10.10 over two years. That appears to be the first time the company has lobbied on the issue in several years — earlier reports don’t have a field for issues lobbied — and forms for the 10 outside firms it employed during the quarter don’t mention it.

Maybe Walmart does have a stance on raising the minimum wage after all.

The State Representative from…Walmart?

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City officials in Green Bay, WI, are fighting a proposed Walmart in the city’s historic Broadway district, but one state lawmaker has voiced a different opinion. State Representative John Klenke has said this week that he will ask the state’s Building Commission to reconsider $2 million set aside for the expansion of the city’s convention center if the city blocks the Walmart opening.

Alice WaltonRep. Klenke, a Republican representing parts of Green Bay and surrounding areas in the state house, has some powerful friends. As Fox 11 notes, Klenke has received campaign contributions from several members of Walmart’s Walton family. According to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Alice, Christy, Jim, and Lynne Walton have each made contributions to Klenke since 2010. In fact, the Waltons are no stranger to Wisconsin state legislative races. Despite the fact that none of them live in Wisconsin, six Waltons were among the top fifteen political donors in Wisconsin state legislative races from 2009-2010, the cycle that brought Republicans to power in the state.

Green Bay’s Mayor Jim Schmitt and members of the public are opposed to Walmart opening in the city’s historic Broadway district. Yet Klenke, who was reportedly previously in favor of the state funding for Green Bay’s convention center expansion, told Fox 11 this week, “If you’re not going to help yourself then why should we help you?” It’s a surprising exertion of government control from a legislator associated with the Tea Party.

It looks like the Waltons’ political contributions continue to pay off.

The (Not So) New Face of Walmart

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Doug McMillonTomorrow, Doug McMillon will become the fifth CEO of Walmart and the youngest to have the job since Sam Walton himself. Before him will be the monumental task of steering the retail giant back on course and into public favor.

An Arkansas native and life-long Walmart employee, McMillon is considered a company insider and Walton family favorite. Analysts have widely approved of his promotion, given his extensive knowledge of the company.

McMillon famously began working for Walmart as a teenager in 1984, in a distribution center position. In 1990, while he was in business school at the University of Tulsa, he rejoined the company as a buyer trainee in sporting goods. He worked his way up and between 1998 and 1999, McMillon was a vice president and general merchandise manager for Sam’s Club stores, after which he was promoted to senior vice president and general merchandise manager for Walmart Stores, Inc. In September 2002, McMillon became executive vice president and chief merchant for Sam’s Club. He was named to lead Sam’s Club in August 2005, a position he held until February 2009, when he became president and CEO of Walmart International. McMillon is now on the Board of Directors for Walmart de Mexico and the U.S.-China Business Council.

McMillon’s biography indicates that he may be the right person to return Walmart to its founding values and build a culture of respect in the company where hard work is again rewarded.  Walmart workers will anxiously welcome him, as they wait to see if he continues on the status quo set forth under CEO Mike Duke or takes the company in a new and better direction.

Walmart lobbied to avoid increased safety in Bangladesh

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Politico broke the news earlier this week that Walmart hired lobbyists to fight a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have cost the company business. Walmart has refused to sign the binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, in favor of a voluntary alliance it formed with Gap and other retailers. From Politico:

Retail giant Wal-Mart hired Porter Gordon Silver Communications to work on successfully stripping a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act in December, according to public disclosures released Tuesday. Several members of Congress had championed a worker-safety provision in the annual defense spending bill that would have given procurement priority to companies that signed onto a legally binding Bangladesh workers’ safety agreement called the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Retailers like Wal-Mart and Gap have declined to sign on, and Wal-Mart unveiled its own nonbinding safety plan in May of last year for workers at its Bangladeshi factories. In practice, the provision would have cost Wal-Mart and other retailers not part of the accord a good deal of money — as their products would have suffered at retail stores on military bases as a result of procurement priority given to Accord members.

The Huffington Post describes the intentions behind the NDAA’s ethical sourcing provision:

In the eyes of its crafters, the amendment had a simple underlying message: Markets sanctioned and supported by the U.S. government should be shut off from sweatshop labor…

If passed, the amendment on military exchanges would have been an embarrassment to the alliance, since Congress would have essentially endorsed the accord as a stronger approach to improving safety in Bangladesh. It also would have pressured companies whose clothes are sold in the exchanges to consider joining the accord or face losing business. Alliance leaders asked senators to either insert language putting them on equal footing with the accord or to strip out the accord altogether.

Between December 2012 and May 2013, nearly 1,200 Bangladeshi garment workers were killed in preventable factory fires and building collapses while producing goods mostly for U.S. and European markets. Walmart has responded to the tragedies by refusing to sign the broadly supported Bangladesh Safety Accord and instead proposed its own alternative. In contrast with the accord, Walmart’s plan is a voluntary arrangement without any meaningful enforcement mechanisms, developed without consultation with workers.

In the case of the NDAA, Walmart’s lobbyists were able to help the company again avoid being held accountable for increased safety in the Bangladeshi factories producing goods for the company.

Legal Notice: UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Walmart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Walmart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Walmart publicly commit to adhere to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of its employees. Courts have enjoined non-Associate UFCW and OUR Walmart agents from entering any Walmart property, except to shop, in Arkansas ((read order), Florida ((read order), Texas ((read order), Colorado (read order), and Maryland ((read order); and in California from entering inside stores (read order).