In the latest effort by politicians to exact retribution from Walmart for allegedly bribing officials in Mexico, New York City's public advocate, Bill de Blasio, launched a new website Friday morning to chart the company's political contributions and lobbying efforts in the United States. The website, Six Degrees of Walmart, created in collaboration with the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, is intended as a way to shine a light on the company's "web of secret political spending."
The site highlights Walmart's participation in trade associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. These associations have lobbied in support of "stand your ground" laws and restrictive voter ID rules, and to curb the new whistleblower protections in the Dodd-Frank Act, according to the website. These groups have also strived to grant police more power to arrest undocumented immigrants and weaken environmental protections.
"When a company that bribes its way into communities and breaks federal laws won't come clean about its political spending, it should set off alarms," states a press release from de Blasio, who is expected to run for mayor in New York City.
"Our work is about getting consumers and shareholders turned on to activities of a brand name that they're invested in," he wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "When they're making that purchase or driving to the mall it doesn't always register."
De Blasio is hardly alone in jumping on the anti-Walmart bandwagon. Late Thursday one of the nation's largest pension funds filed suit against company executives and board members for breaching their responsibility in handling the alleged bribery scheme, first reported in late April by The New York Times. That article claimed that Walmart officials bribed officials in Mexico so as to fuel its rapid growth in the country.
Since the story broke, unions, community groups and politicians have organized protests and issued statements denouncing Walmart's behavior in the United States. Some opponents, such as the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union's president, Stuart Appelbaum, have gone as far as calling Walmart's lobbying and political donations sanctioned versions of bribery.
Walmart says that the barrage of criticism will not affect its New York City expansion plans. "Our track record as a good corporate citizen is well-known and in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, residents continue to choose to shop and work at Walmart," wrote company spokesman Steve Restivo in a statement. "As a result, we continue to evaluate opportunities to make access to our stores more convenient for customers."
De Blasio has come out swinging against other corporate foes. He put together a similar online "Holiday Shopping Guide" late last year that listed the political records of Walmart and other companies like Victoria's Secret and Microsoft. He has long opposed Walmart's move into New York City and in January 2011 helped publish a report citing economic woes that he claimed the company would bring to New York.
At the time, Walmart responded with a countercharge, critical of de Blasio. "New Yorkers need a public advocate that’s focused on finding solutions for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are out of work and the millions more who don’t have convenient access to fresh, affordable food," wrote Restivo. "Time and again, our stores have proven to be part of the solution in both those regards in thousands and thousands of communities across the country."
Whether Six Degrees of Walmart will slow down Walmart's campaign to enter the New York market as much as it helps a potential de Blasio mayorial campaign remains to be seen. The joins a panoply of anti-Walmart websites -- such as Walmart Subsidy Watch, Making Change at Walmart and Sprawl-Busters all seeking to alter the company's business practices.
Changing Walmart is only one rationale for his site, according to de Blasio. "A part of this is to change the insular company that rejects all attempts at reform," he wrote in an email. "Another part is empowering communities around the country hoping to keep Walmart out. You have city council boards everywhere who have decisions about whether to open a door to Walmart. Campaigns in each city have resonance and support each other."