Walmart and its lobbyists filed their second quarter lobbying reports this week, and at the same time the company is starting to see some of the fruits of its multi-pronged approach to buying support on Capitol Hill. In the second quarter of 2013, Walmart spent just shy of $2 million on its federal lobbying efforts, an increase from both the first quarter and the same time last year. The company has spent a total of $3.8 million on federal lobbying so far this year. Earlier this year, Making Change at Walmart released a report that summarized Walmart and the Walton family’s extensive political spending. The report found that the two have given a combined $17 million since the 2000 election cycle, with a disproportionate focus on conservative legislators.
In two interesting posts this week, the Huffington Post and Open Secrets chronicle some of Walmart’s top priorities and follow the trail of money along the way.
The Marketplace Fairness Act moves to the House
In recent years, passing internet sales tax legislation has been a top priority for Walmart. As Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) told Bloomberg last year, “This is Wal-Mart’s top issue, if not one of their top issues.” Womack, who wrote the internet sales tax bill, went on to explain, “Wal-Mart is important to me because they are headquartered in my district.” During the 2012 election cycle, contributions to Rep. Womack from Walmart, the Waltons, and Walmart execs showed just how important the legislator was to them. From 2011 to 2012, they gave him a total of $54,450, and they wrote most of their checks in the span of less than three weeks.
In May, the bill passed the Senate, and now attention has shifted to the House. While Walmart’s lobbyists kept up their years-long effort to pass the legislation, Open Secrets reports that Walmart’s PAC, along with other retailers and industry groups, was making large contributions to influential lawmakers. Twenty-two Republican members of the House have received a combined $59,500 from Walmart and Home Depot’s PACs, according to Open Secrets. These lawmakers are among the 24 members of Congress dubbed “Heroes of Main Street” by the National Retail Federation in June (an industry group Walmart belongs to) for their support of internet sales tax legislation. The debate is ongoing, while retailers battle conservative think tanks (who oppose any new tax) for votes in the House.
Walmart’s federal affairs lack transparency and accountability
It’s easier to follow the Marketplace Fairness Act debate because Walmart has made its position known, but that is not typically the case, as Al Norman points out this week on the Huffington Post. Most of what we know about Walmart’s federal lobbying comes from quarterly disclosure forms filed with the government. But, as Norman explains, “such disclosure forms do little to explain to the company’s employees or shareholders what the company is really up to on Capitol Hill.” Walmart has spent over $10 million on federal lobbying since last year, and in the last election cycle, its PAC spent over $3 million on federal election contributions.
Yet Walmart’s strategy and intentions are mostly opaque, even to company insiders and shareholders. As Al Norman explains,
Only Wal-Mart’s Government Relations Departments know about the company’s interactions with elected officials and legislative and regulatory bodies at the federal, state and local level. Shareholders are disengaged, employees receive no briefings.