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Why Are Democrats Taking Money From Wal-Mart?

Jonathan Tasini

Where does a politician, or a political party, draw the line in the willingness to sacrifice principles for a few bucks? When we talk about the need to "change" the political environment and the culture of money and politics, isn't there some place where you can say, "right here, this is the perfect example and we aren't going to let this go on anymore"? I would argue that the place to draw the line is the relationship between the Democratic Party and Wal-Mart. And the time to draw the line is now.

I outline the facts in a moment. But, the premise for the need to draw the line now is this: There may be no corporation in American today that has been a more persistent, regular violator of the law than Wal-Mart. There may be no corporation in America that has been as virulently anti-union as Wal-Mart, firing workers repeatedly for trying to organize. There may be no corporation in America that has attacked the rights of workers and undercut the living standards of Americans more than Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has at least 80 class-action lawsuitsin 41 states pending against it.

Wal-Mart illegally denied full rest or meal breaks in violation of state wage and hour laws--a violation that may cost the company $2 billion.

Wal-Mart abuses women, and is the defendants in the biggest sex discrimination case in history.

Wal-Mart is a habitual tax-dodger.

Wal-Mart's heirs buy expensive paintings but won't give their workers decent health care.

Wal-Mart sued a disabled women, demanding she give back money she won in a settlement.

Wal-Mart exploits children in Mexico.

Wal-Mart lead a global corporate lobbying campaign to block a very modest improvement in Chinese labor laws--because Wal-Mart's business model depends on exploiting cheap labor, here and abroad.

And that's just a sample. Why would any political leader, who represents him or herself to be a defender of the working person, want to be affiliated with such a company?

The answer is clear: money. The Democratic Party is almost even with the Republican Party in the money it receives from Wal-Mart, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Center's data, published in an article in today's Wall Street Journal (I'll come back to that article in a moment), shows that 12 years ago, Wal-Mart's PAC gave 98 percent of its money to Republicans. In the current cycle, Democrats have received 48 percent of Wal-Mart's PAC expenditures.

Here is the list just for the 2008 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the House, the list is breath-taking in its scope:

Altmire, Jason (D-PA) $12,000 Arcuri, Michael (D-NY) $10,000 Baird, Brian (D-WA) $2,500 Barrow, John (D-GA) $10,000 Becerra, Xavier (D-CA) $6,000 Berry, Marion (D-AR) $6,000 Bishop, Sanford D Jr (D-GA)$5,000 Boren, Dan (D-OK) $7,500 Boswell, Leonard L (D-IA)$5,000 Boucher, Rick (D-VA) $6,000 Boyd, Allen (D-FL) $6,500 Butterfield, G K (D-NC) $3,500 Cardoza, Dennis (D-CA) $2,500 Chandler, Ben (D-KY) $2,500 Christian-Green, Donna (D-VI) $1,000 Clarke, Yvette D (D-NY) $1,000 Cleaver, Emanuel (D-MO) $1,000 Clyburn, James E (D-SC) $6,000 Cohen, Stephen Ira (D-TN)$2,000 Cooper, Jim (D-TN) $5,000 Cramer, Bud (D-AL) $2,500 Cuellar, Henry (D-TX) $7,000 Davis, Artur (D-AL) $7,500 Davis, Lincoln (D-TN) $5,000 Donnelly, Joe (D-IN) $5,000 Edwards, Chet (D-TX) $10,000 Ellsworth, Brad (D-IN) $12,500 Etheridge, Bob (D-NC) $2,000 Gonzalez, Charlie A (D-TX)$6,000 Gordon, Bart (D-TN) $5,000 Green, Gene (D-TX) $3,500 Hill, Baron (D-IN) $10,000 Hinojosa, Ruben (D-TX) $5,000 Holden, Tim (D-PA) $2,500 Hooley, Darlene (D-OR) $1,000 Hoyer, Steny H (D-MD) $6,000 Jackson Lee, Sheila (D-TX) $2,500 Johnson, Hank (D-GA) $1,000 Kilpatrick, Carolyn Cheeks (D-MI)$4,000 Kind, Ron (D-WI) $7,000 Klein, Ron (D-FL) $10,000 Larsen, Rick (D-WA) $2,500 Larson, John B (D-CT) $3,500 Lewis, John (D-GA) $2,500 Lofgren, Zoe (D-CA) $2,000 Maloney, Carolyn B (D-NY)$1,000 Matheson, Jim (D-UT) $5,000 McDermott, Jim (D-WA) $1,000 McIntyre, Mike (D-NC) $1,000 Meek, Kendrick B (D-FL) $7,500 Meeks, Gregory W (D-NY) $7,500 Melancon, Charles J (D-LA)$6,500 Moore, Dennis (D-KS) $3,500 Moran, Jim (D-VA) $2,500 Neal, Richard E (D-MA) $2,000 Oberstar, James L (D-MN)$1,000 Ortiz, Solomon P (D-TX) $3,000 Pastor, Ed (D-AZ) $5,000 Payne, Donald M (D-NJ) $1,000 Peterson, Collin C (D-MN)$5,500 Pomeroy, Earl (D-ND) $5,000 Rangel, Charles B (D-NY)$5,500 Reyes, Silvestre (D-TX) $5,500 Richardson, Laura (D-CA)$2,000 Rodriguez, Ciro D (D-TX)$10,000 Ross, Mike (D-AR) $5,000 Ruppersberger, Dutch (D-MD)$4,500 Salazar, John (D-CO) $7,000 Sanchez, Loretta (D-CA) $5,500 Scott, David (D-GA) $5,000 Scott, Robert C (D-VA) $2,000 Shuler, Heath (D-NC) $10,000 Sires, Albio (D-NJ) $2,000 Skelton, Ike (D-MO) $3,000 Snyder, Vic (D-AR) $2,000 Spratt, John M Jr (D-SC)$1,000 Tanner, John (D-TN) $9,000 Tauscher, Ellen (D-CA) $5,000 Taylor, Gene (D-MS) $5,000 Thompson, Bennie G (D-MS)$7,500 Thompson, Mike (D-CA) $4,500 Tiberi, Patrick J (R-OH)$2,500 Towns, Edolphus (D-NY) $3,000 Watt, Melvin L (D-NC) $3,500 Waxman, Henry A (D-CA) $2,500 Wilson, Charlie (D-OH) $5,000 Wynn, Albert R (D-MD) $5,000

In the Senate:

Baucus, Max (D-MT) $7,000 Landrieu, Mary L (D-LA) $5,000 Lincoln, Blanche (D-AR) $2,000 McCaskill, Claire (D-MO)$5,000 Pryor, Mark (D-AR) $3,000 Salazar, Ken (D-CO) $2,000

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. In November 2005, I asked why Democrats were doing Wal-Mart's bidding, including helping block an important piece of labor legislation. Two years later, as the 2006 election drew near, Wal-Mart put on a big push to woo Democratic lawmakers, in particular, African-American and Hispanic representatives.

In one sense, this was inevitable in the culture of Washington politics: money flows to power. And, since 2006, Democrats are an equal power in the political power landscape.

Here is why the line must be drawn now and why this trend is particularly worrisome. The Wall Street Journal article reveals the background in a piece about Wal-Mart's internal political drive to organize its managers to vote Republican in the coming election as a strategy to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act, the single-most important legislative priority for organized labor:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.


"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has made defeat of the legislation a top priority. In the past six months, it has flown state and local Chamber members to Washington to lobby members of Congress. On Thursday, the Chamber began airing a television ad in Minnesota and plans to run ads in other states as part of a broader campaign.

The bill was crafted by labor as a response to more aggressive opposition by companies to union-organizing activity. The AFL-CIO and individual unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers have promised to make passage of the new labor law their No. 1 mission after the November election.

First introduced in 2003, the bill came to a vote last year and sailed through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, but was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate and faced a veto threat by the White House. The bill was taken off the floor, and its backers pledged to reintroduce it when they could get more support.

The November election could bring that extra support in Congress, as well as the White House if Sen. Obama is elected and Democrats extend their control in the Senate. Sen. Obama co-sponsored the legislation, which also is known as "card check," and has said several times he would sign it into law if elected president. Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, opposes the Employee Free Choice Act and voted against it last year.

Putting aside the important point about whether Wal-Mart's internal political electioneering is illegal under federal election law, the far bigger issue is that Wal-Mart is making it quite clear that it will spare no effort to defeat EFCA. Wal-Mart and the business community believe that the passage of EFCA will allow millions of workers who want to be in a union to be able to exercise their rights without intimidation and fear of losing their jobs.

To cut to the chase, Wal-Mart's PAC spending is aimed at one thing: to make sure EFCA does not pass and, if it does pass, to make sure that the bill that reaches the president's desk will be weakened (which, by the way, is what happened to labor law reform in the 1970s). Let's look at the possible scenarios, assuming Barack Obama is president in 2009:

1. A 2008 election brings Democrats a large majority in the House and even 60 seats in the Senate. EFCA comes to the House floor and passes largely intact. EFCA arrives to the Senate and, lo and behold, one or more Democratic Senators block the bill, not to kill it but to exact changes that gut the effectiveness of EFCA.

2. A 2008 election brings Democrats a large majority in the House and even 60 seats in the Senate. EFCA comes to the House floor and a large number of Democrats from the list above introduce a series of amendments that seriously weaken EFCA.

3. A 2008 election keeps Democrats in control of the House and Senate with larger numbers. In both chambers, EFCA will face significant attempts to change its basic thrust.

I have always been a bit skeptical about using the large numbers of legislators who have signed as co-sponsors of EFCA as a barometer of the chances for the legislation to pass--and pass in a form that changes the playing field for union organizing from one grossly tilted towards employers to one that gives workers the real right to choose a union.

The Wal-Mart contribution list above remind me of that scene in "The Untouchables" where Eliot Ness, sure of the evidence against Al Capone, finds out that the entire jury has been bought of. Of course, the movie ends with a happy resolution but we aren't in Hollywood when it comes to EFCA.

So, what should be done:

1. The Change To Win Coalition and the AFL-CIO should jointly send a letter to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer (head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) and Chris Hollen (head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) demanding that party members return every dime to Wal-Mart.

2. Both Federations should also write to every member of Congress declaring that any Democrat receiving or keeping Wal-Mart money can kiss any labor donations or labor support good-bye.

3. Both Federations should, then, send a letter to every supposed Democratic campaign consultant and make it clear: you work for us OR you work for Wal-Mart. You can't do both.

Jonathan Tasini is Executive Director of the Labor Research Organization, which publishes

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