Wal-Mart, the Democrats' New Friend

Wal-Mart is looking to curry favor with Capitol Hill's new majority by donating to Democratic campaigns, adding lobbyists with Democratic connections and engaging in some creative sponsorship opportunities.
Wal-Mart is looking to curry favor with Capitol Hill's new majority by donating to Democratic campaigns, adding lobbyists with Democratic connections and engaging in some creative sponsorship opportunities. (By Chris Hondros -- Getty Images)

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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Wal-Mart has taken its lumps lately, especially from the Democratic Party over its treatment of employees. So the company has been courting the new majority on Capitol Hill by doing a lot of the standard stuff: hiring Democratic executives and donating more to the campaigns of Democratic candidates. Its political action committee has given 49 percent of its funds to Democrats this year, up from 32 percent in last year's election.

But last week Wal-Mart's outreach got personal as well -- it's now doing favors for the families of powerful Democratic senators.

Last Tuesday evening, the world's largest retailer sponsored a fancy reception in the Capitol's LBJ Room off the Senate floor to celebrate a yet-to-be-completed documentary about female members of the chamber called "14 Women." The film's three producers include Mary Lambert, the older sister of Sen. Blanche Lincol n (D-Ark.), and Nicole Boxer, the daughter of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Paul Kane of washingtonpost.com reports that the "Wal-Mart" on the name tags was larger than the names of the guests.

The event was a big hit. Wal-Mart said that 12 of the now-16 women in the Senate (11 D's and five R's) showed up -- including Sens. Lincoln and Boxer, of course. One of the senators who did not attend was Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Clinton is a former Wal-Mart director (something some of her campaign aides would like the public to forget) whose younger brother, Tony Rodham, was once married to Nicole Boxer (something Clinton probably would like to forget).

But Wal-Mart did more to assist the project than pass out canapes and drinks. Last year the company became the movie's corporate sponsor when it handed the producers $150,000 to help complete the film. "Mary Lambert contacted Wal-Mart and wanted to know if we might be interested in helping to underwrite the documentary," said company spokesman Robert Traynham. "We thought it would be a great opportunity to help highlight the contributions that women have made in U.S. history and particularly in the U.S. Senate."

Traynham added that the reception and grant were not forms of backdoor lobbying and had nothing to do with trying to improve Wal-Mart's standing with senators, especially Democratic senators.

Oh.

Soliciting for Good Citizens

Another backdoor lobbying technique (oops, I mean opportunity to celebrate and assist members of Congress) is to conspicuously contribute to a foundation that supports a congressional caucus.

Congress is filled with caucuses -- the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus and the Congressional Internet Caucus, to name just a few. These are groups of like-minded lawmakers who meet regularly to discuss the subjects in which they have a common interest.

But, Washington being Washington, money quickly enters the equation. Some caucuses have foundations that help bankroll events.

The Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, for instance, sponsors gatherings in conjunction with the House co-chairmen of the Congressional Internet Caucus. Its "supporters group" includes dozens of tech firms that lobby Congress intensely, including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The advisory committee's next large event is an April 25 "Wireless Policy and Practices Dialogue." To pay the tab, its Web site lists "sponsorship opportunities," available for $500 to $5,000. A sampling (before it was apparently altered yesterday):


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