The April 22 New York Times lead story by investigative reporter David Barstow, using internal company documents to ouline how the retailer Wal-Mart bribed Mexican officials to facilitate their way into the country, had reverberations in the business and political worlds, and also managed to hurt Wal-Mart's stock price, which the paper eagerly noted the next day on the front of the Business section.
The attack is still going strong. The front of Tuesday's Business section featured investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau's "Wal-Mart's Good-Citizen Efforts Face a Test" (which the Times seems to think is synonymous with "cozying up to Democrats.")
That's right below Gretchen Morgenson's "New York Pension Funds To Challenge Wal-Mart," featuring a picture of protesting lefties.
Besides its success in selling goods that range from groceries to televisions, Wal-Mart has also shown a highly developed ability to sell itself.
The country’s biggest retailer has adroitly used millions of dollars in campaign contributions, charity drives, lobbying campaigns, and its work for popular causes like childhood nutrition and carbon emissions to build support in Congress and the White House.
It also uses these methods to increase its “favorable” ratings, especially with liberals. And as Wal-Mart’s top lobbyist explained to investors in 2010, the company thinks the strategy has worked.
Lichtblau avoids the obvious question: Does Wal-Mart feel obliged to get friendly with Democrats to avoid regulation that would cripple its business?
With controversy building over its role in a Mexican bribery scandal, Wal-Mart’s desire to stay out of the limelight will now be put to a test. To help weather the fallout, Wal-Mart will rely on the relationships it has worked assiduously to develop in Washington during the last decade -- relationships that its critics say have insulated it from political threats.
For years Wal-Mart had reliable allies in the Republican Party, while it struggled to develop support among Democrats. But in recent years it has joined with the Obama administration on a number of its initiatives, including President Obama’s health care plan, environmental safeguards and childhood obesity. At the same time, it has aggressively lobbied the administration and Congress on dozens of policies affecting its business operations, including global trade, taxes, immigration, business regulation and waste disposal standards.
Industry experts say its political priorities could now be jeopardized by accusations first disclosed in The New York Times that Wal-Mart had paid $24 million in bribes to Mexican officials and covered up the payments.
Just six years ago, Republicans dwarfed Democrats in contributions tied to Wal-Mart. Democrats were often seen as hostile to the company, as unions and liberal groups mounted a years-long campaign attacking the company’s labor practices, its treatment of female employees and other workplace issues. But today, the contributions are about evenly split between the two parties, as Wal-Mart has made an aggressive push to attract political support from Democrats and liberals even in the face of the prominent opposition.
The Times didn't miss the opportunity to launch yet another dubious attack on a right-leaning advocacy group, the American Legislative Exchange Council with tenuous ties to the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.
Last year, Wal-Mart spent more than $7.8 million in federal lobbying, using its own staff of in-house lobbyists, powerful Washington firms like Patton Boggs and the Podesta Group, and major trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce and retail groups. But the company’s critics say it has managed to obscure its particular lobbying accomplishments by working through larger trade groups with even broader agendas, making it difficult to determine exactly what role the company itself played.
For instance, Wal-Mart was involved at least indirectly in the formulation of a controversial gun policy that was pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or Alec, a conservative business group to which Wal-Mart belongs.
A Wal-Mart executive, Janet Scott, was the co-leader of a criminal justice committee at Alec that in 2005 unanimously supported strengthening self-defense laws in shooting incidents. Since then, the business association has successfully pushed for passage of so-called Stand Your Ground laws, which have become controversial in recent weeks after the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.
Wal-Mart is the country’s biggest seller of shotguns and ammunition.
The company, a capitalist success story, has certainly never been insulated from petty Times coverage. Reporter Michael Barbaro is a particular foe. His September 2006 hit piece on the company's alleged "conservative ties" required a lengthy "Editor's Note" correcting it in several spots.