Did Walmart lobby the USTR on FDI or not? You decide.

Whether Walmart lobbied Indian officials to open the Indian retail market to foreign direct investment (FDI) is a long disputed question. In India, lobbying is illegal and akin to bribery. Concerns that Walmart lobbied in India led the government to appoint a former Justice to investigate Walmart’s activities.

Justice Mudgal completed his investigation in May and submitted his report to the Indian government.  Although it hasn’t been released publicly, Indian newspapers have reported on its findings. According to the Economic Times “some of the answers provided by Walmart were ‘incomprehensible’ and parts of the deposition by its just departed India boss Raj Jain were‘ambiguous.’”  As a result the “government committee set up to look into whether the US behemoth indulged in bribery in India, has refused to give it a clean chit [cleared of any wrongdoing].”

So things are unresolved in India, but certainly things must be clearer here in the US where lobbying is legal and organizations and companies must file reports quarterly that document their lobbying activities, right?

Not so fast.

In its US lobbying disclosures, Walmart has regularly noted that it has lobbied US government agencies and elected leaders on its interests in India. For every quarter in 2010 and 2011, it listed “Discussion related to India FDI” or something similar on its lobbying reports. And it did the same for the last 3 quarters of 2012 and then again for the first quarter of 2013.  But then in the second quarter of 2013 Walmart stopped lobbying on FDI. Or did it?

The results of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by WMTS (seem to contradict Walmart’s lobbying disclosure.

The documents reveal that Walmart kept up its contact of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) to discuss FDI throughout the second quarter of 2013. Walmart lobbyist Sarah Thorn arranged an April 24th meeting for Walmart Asia CEO Scott Price with USTR staff, and then Thorn herself met with USTR staff again on May 15th.  

Hmm.  And that’s not lobbying?

What do you think?