Wal-Mart issued a statement Tuesday asking Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) to veto the state's so-called religious freedom bill, which is similar to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that Indiana has come under fire for.
— Walmart Newsroom (@WalmartNewsroom) March 31, 2015
Hutchinson said Wednesday that he wouldn't veto it, but was asking the legislature to make changes so it more closely resembles the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. He said he "had some communication personally with some of the business leaders across the state," and it's hard to imagine Bentonville-based Wal-Mart wasn't among them.
For Wal-Mart to jump into the fight is significant. It's obviously a huge company — No. 1 on the Fortune 500 — but also it's a huge part of Arkansas. In addition to its headquarters, it operates 131 stores in the state, paid $266.7 million in state taxes, and employs 50,000 Arkansans directly, according to its statistics — not to mention the others who work for other companies but work in the state because Wal-Mart's there. When Wal-Mart speaks, the governor pays attention.
It's also significant because Republicans love Wal-Mart. According to a 2012 YouGov BrandIndex Buzz score, Republicans consistently have a higher perception of the store than Democrats.
If Miley Cyrus, the city of San Francisco and Hillary Clinton come out against these bills, that's one thing, but when a red-state-based company with strong conservative support does, Republicans like Hutchinson are less likely to roll their eyes.
But Wal-Mart isn't necessarily an overtly partisan company. According to Open Secrets, it donated $1,462,183 to federal candidates in 2014, both Republican and Democratic (although slightly more to Republicans).
And according to a 2014 GfK survey of the American consumer, those who say they shop at Wal-Mart three or more times a month is a pretty even split between Republicans (21 percent), Democrats (20 percent) and independents (19 percent). Similarly, NASCAR, which came out against Indiana's bill, is about evenly enjoyed by Republicans (22 percent), Democrats (21 percent) and independents (21 percent).
Wal-Mart is a powerhouse, and when it decides to weigh in on an issue, it's a big deal. It's hard to see how its opinion didn't matter in Hutchinson's decision.
David Barie contributed to this post.