As the government shutdown drags on, many pundits have drawn attention to how gerrymandering has helped give the American people a handful of right-wing Republicans willing to shut down the government as part of their ideological crusade against Obamacare. What has not been widely understood is how Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, is also a top funder of an effort to turn state legislatures red and control the redistricting process. Perhaps Republican operative and former Bush advisor Karl Rove put it best when he wrote, “He who controls redistricting can control Congress” in a 2010 Wall Street Journal editorial. And with the millions Walmart gives to the Republican State Leadership Committee, the Republican Party’s top influencer of redistricting, Walmart and the Waltons have played a disturbingly significant role.
The House has seen an increase in “safe” Republican seats since the last shutdown in 1995. Politico describes the difference: “79 of the 236 House Republicans serving during the last shutdown resided in districts that Clinton won in 1992. Today, just 17 of the 232 House Republicans are in districts that Obama won in 2012.”
The result: primaries pose a bigger risk to most Republicans than the general election, and Republicans are engaging in a race to the extreme right. This theory is borne out by Think Progress’ tally of House Republicans who are willing to resolve the crisis and back a continuing resolution like the one passed by the house. As of last Tuesday, there were only 14 such House Republicans, and in their districts Obama averaged 48.8% of the vote in 2012.
This is where Walmart comes in. The 2010 Republican takeover of state legislatures was led by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a so-called dark money group that can take in unlimited corporate contributions and obscures that money’s origins as it is redistributed to influence state races. A Pro Publica report explains that when it was formed in 2002, the RSLC “was primarily a vehicle for donors like health care and tobacco companies to influence state legislatures, key battlegrounds for regulations that affect corporate America.” But in 2010, the group got a new chairman and a new focus: to influence redistricting.
To control redistricting before the 2012 elections, Republicans would first have to win as many state legislatures as they could in 2010. That year Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Nationally, the GOP’s effort will be spearheaded by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Funded by 80,000 donors, it spent more than $20 million in the last election cycle on legislative races and for attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state campaigns.”
The RSLC may have thousands of donors, but Walmart is consistently among the top 20. Since the 2004 election cycle, Walmart has given the Republican State Leadership Committee over $1.5 million, according to data compiled by Open Secrets. In the ongoing election cycle, Walmart is currently the group’s top donor.
Walmart’s record donating to right-wing causes
All of this is in keeping with Walmart and the Walton family’s (which controls Walmart) long history of backing Republicans and right wing-causes, especially at the state level. Since the 2004 cycle, Walmart has spent over $12.7 million in state-level races (not counting its contributions to the RSLC), according to Follow the Money. Nearly 80% of that money went to Republican candidates and party committees. The Waltons, meanwhile, give almost exclusively to Republicans, and in 2010 they helped finance the Republican takeover in a big way. Despite not being from there, six Waltons were among the top fifteen political donors in Wisconsin legislative races during that election cycle. In fact, Alice Walton was the top individual donor to Wisconsin legislators during the 2010 cycle.
The 2010 GOP strategy worked. Walmart joined forces with the US Chamber of Commerce (which Walmart also funds), tobacco companies, pharmaceutical companies, and others to fund the RSLC and help Republicans win 675 legislative seats and gain control of 12 more legislatures, including places like North Carolina, where it had been over a century since the GOP last controlled the state. Ultimately, Pro Publica explains, “the GOP oversaw redrawing of lines for four times as many congressional districts as Democrats.” So even after Democratic candidates for Congress won 1.1 million more votes than Republicans, the GOP was able to maintain its control of the House.
For $1.5 million over the past decade, Walmart was able to help the Republican State Leadership Committee secure control over the Congressional redistricting process. This in turn gave the Republicans 54% of House seats despite winning only 45% of the popular vote and ample opportunity to grind the government to a halt, even without the support of most Americans.