Companies may have to make amends after midterm elections

The Washington Post takes a look back at some of the more memorable moments from the 2010 campaigns.
By Ylan Q. Mui and Jia Lynn Yang
Wasington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 12:30 AM

Republicans have a message for the businesses that worked closely with the Obama administration over the past two years on key controversial issues: We won't forget.

Take the case of Wal-Mart, the behemoth big-box retailer that liberals have long loved to hate. Several years ago, it began to break ranks with industry groups by speaking out in favor of an increase to the minimum wage and health-care reform. And, for the first time in its history, it gave more money to Democrats than the GOP for Tuesday's elections.

The corporation's moves caught the eye of Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan. During a phone call with company lobbyists last year during the fight over the health-care bill, Camp bluntly reminded Wal-Mart of its unpalatable position on the issue, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Now, Wal-Mart's political team finds itself in an awkward position. Camp is poised to become the next chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Companies that worked with the Democrats over the past two years would face a far less sympathetic audience from Republicans, who are expected to make significant gains in the midterm elections. If they gain control of Congress, party leaders have pledged to revisit the health-care bill and lower taxes for businesses.

"Some businesses joined in on the hang-me-last strategy," said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.). "I think upon reflection, in moments of candor, they may say they were foolish to do that."

Corporate America often views Washington politics as a bane. But over the past two years, many companies and industry groups felt compelled to get more involved as the Obama administration pushed an aggressive agenda on issues central to their economic well-being. Some said they had few options but to seek a seat at the table.

"When you're faced with legislation that's going to be enacted, it's a tough decision," said John Scofield, a Republican lobbyist for Podesta Group. "Do you fight or cut a deal?"

GOP leaders began speaking with lobbyists and corporate donors about the imbalance in their campaign contributions as momentum for a Republican upset built over the year. In this election cycle, corporate political action committees donated $262 million, with 53 percent going to Democrats and 47 percent to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During the last midterm elections, Democrats received only 35 percent of corporate PAC money.

Wal-Mart has given $1 million in the current election cycle to federal candidates, according to the center, with 53 percent going to Democrats. Company spokesman Greg Rossiter said the retailer backs candidates from both parties who support issues close to their customers, employees and shareholders.

The pharmaceutical industry, in particular, worked closely with the Obama administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill to pass health-care reform. During the debate, the group's top lobbyist at the time, Billy Tauzin, struck a deal with Democrats under which the industry would give up $80 billion in revenues over 10 years to help pay for the legislation. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, then spent tens of millions of dollars on television ads supporting the overhaul.

Tauzin's strategy did not sit well with House Republicans. Their leader, John Boehner, who is likely to become speaker should the Republicans win control of the House, blasted PhRMA in a scathing letter.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company