Walmart's PAC and the heirs to the company's fortune are spending millions to influence the political process -- and their money is often going to boost conservative candidates and causes, according to claims by a union-backed coalition pushing for more rights for Walmart workers.
The Walmart Political Action Committee spent more than $2 million influencing federal elections in three of the last five federal election cycles, according to a report released Tuesday by Making Change at Walmart, a group of advocates, Walmart workers and others aimed at transforming the company. The report also said that members of the Walton family, the billionaire heirs to the Walmart fortune who own over half of Walmart common stock and hold three seats on the company's board, spent more than $1.3 million on federal elections last year, along with hundreds of thousands more at the state and local level.
The report comes as Walmart is facing backlash from some within its workforce and as companies are experiencing increased scrutiny over donations in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that opened up their spending power to influence elections. It cited figures from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group that tracks money in politics.
In the case of both the Walmart PAC and the Walton family, much of their spending has gone to candidates supporting conservative causes, the report found. Some of the group's findings combine contributions from Walmart's PAC and the Walton family, though the two are separate entities and the Walton family's donations aren't affiliated with the company.
Brooke Buchanan, a Walmart spokesperson, emphasized that the Walton family and Walmart's PAC are different. She noted that 49 percent of the PAC's contributions went to Democrats in the 2011-2012 election cycle.
"Our giving is very equal between parties across the country," she said.
An e-mail message to a spokesperson for the Walton family was not immediately returned.
Of the donations made by both Walmart's PAC and the Walton family since the 2000 election cycle, nearly 70 percent went to Republican candidates and committees, the report found. Because in many cases the report combines donations from the Walmart PAC and the Walton family, the findings create a more conservative picture than Walmart's own data.
For example, during the last election cycle, the Waltons donated about $400,000 to Restore Our Future, the Super PAC associated with Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, the report said, citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
And while Walmart's PAC has made an effort to make its political donations equitable between parties, when analyzing donations from it and the Walton family on an issue-by-issue level, contributions from both tended to skew more toward the right, according to the report. Fifty-eight percent of the PAC’s donations and 76 percent of the Walton family’s contributions went to candidates endorsed by the pro-gun lobby between 2005 and 2012, the report said. During the same period, 77 percent of the PAC's contributions to candidates went to those who either opposed or were silent on gay marriage, while 94 percent of the Walton family's contributions went to candidates silent on or opposed to gay marriage.
The report also includes figures on contributions related to the issue that is perhaps closest to the company’s heart: workers’ wages. The report says that from 2005 to 2012, 59 percent of the Walmart PAC's contributions to House members who voted on the minimum wage increase went to candidates who opposed the increase, while 95 percent of the Waltons' contributions went to candidates who opposed the increase.
"This shows you the real Walmart," Bertha Lewis, an advocate associated with Making Change at Walmart, said. "They put their money where their ideology is."
The report’s findings may provide fodder for Walmart’s critics, who have derided the world’s largest retailer in recent years for paying workers low wages, a Mexico bribery scandal and its loose ties to garment factories in Bangladesh, which have been the sites of deadly disasters.
It's not uncommon for major companies to face scrutiny over political donations. Target, a Walmart competitor, changed its political donation policy in 2011 after facing customer backlash over donations to a controversial political group opposed to gay rights. Best Buy also stoked the ire of liberal customers for donating to the same group. And the health insurance giant Aetna donated more than $7 million to conservative political groups in 2011, according to a regulatory filing accidentally released by the company.
Corporate campaign donations have come under a spotlight in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed companies and individuals to make unlimited contributions to groups supporting political candidates. Activists are pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission to require companies to report their political contributions in an aim to make the exploding practice more transparent.
Check out these charts on the groups' political contributions from Making Change at Walmart: