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In a page one story this morning, The Wall Street Journal details how Wal-Mart has gone from a company that was assiduously apolitical to one with a significant Washington, DC, presence that can "bend public policy to suit its business needs.

This approach is contrary to the philosophy espoused by founder Sam Walton. The company has five lobbyists on staff, plenty of "bench strength" in the form of hired guns who can work on specific issues, and last year contributed more than $1 million to various candidates and issues. The WSJ also reports that unlike many companies that will protect their flanks by donating to both political parties, Wal-Mart donates eight out of 10 dollars to GOP candidates and causes - which is as much connected to the Democratic Party's alliance with organized labor as anything else.

In addition, Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), the Democratic nominee for president, has been openly critical of Wal-Mart's labor policies. Wal-Mart Senior Vice President Jay Allen tells the WSJ that since the company has become an issue in the presidential campaign, it needs to engage at that level.

It isn’t to say that Wal-Mart has seen nothing but success in Washington. Just this month, the US House of Representatives voted to prevent companies such as Wal-Mart from expanding into the banking business, which seems to short-circuit the company's plans for the financial services industry. (Wal-Mart has lately been claiming it really doesn’t have any current plans for this arena, but the WSJ article makes clear that this has long been a priority for the company.

On the other hand, the WSJ says that Wal-Mart successfully negotiated with the Chinese government to circumvent World Trade Organization (WTO) restrictions on foreign ownership of retailing concerns there.
KC's View:
This piece is definitely must-reading for anyone in the retailing business…or any citizen who wants to get a sense of how power is wielded in this country.

While the WSJ focuses primarily on Wal-Mart's independent lobbying efforts, it is our understanding that the company also is highly active with trade associations…which, of course, conceivably can influence the positions those groups take on specific issues. You have to wonder if, at some point, Wal-Mart's position on this issue or that might diverge from the position that might be taken by other members of these trade groups, and what would happen in such an eventuality.

We're not saying this has happened, or is happening. But it would be naïve to suggest that it couldn't.

This is just another example of how complicated life is in the Nation of Wal-Mart. And while some will say "nothing could be finer," there are serious questions that need to be considered about the political, economic, cultural and social implications of the company's dominance and expanding influence.