Wal-Mart says it’s ‘neutral’ on a minimum wage hike. Lobbying disclosures suggest otherwise.

February 21, 2014

Maybe no longer? (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

A couple of days ago, Wal-Mart started talking about how it might be open to the idea of supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage -- splitting from its industry associations, which vociferously oppose it. On Thursday, the company denied that it had taken a side, saying that it remained officially "neutral."

And yet, lobbying disclosure reports suggest that it 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.

Now, the company could just be trying to tweak various pieces of the bill, rather than opposing it or favoring it outright (a spokesman has not returned a request for clarification). But it doesn't look like it's staying out of the fight, either -- just like a long list of unions and trade associations that also weighed in on the Senate bill, as well as its companion in the House.

If Wal-Mart does decide to bring the full force of its lobbying firepower to bear on the issue, it could have considerable sway: It spent $7.26 million last year, according to Opensecrets, on a huge range of issues like trade, corporate tax reform, food stamp funding, military commissaries, and identity theft.

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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