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Friday, September 08, 2006

Buying friends

Conservatives Help Wal-Mart, and Vice Versa

Published: September 8, 2006

As Wal-Mart Stores struggles to rebut criticism from unions and Democratic leaders, the company has discovered a reliable ally: prominent conservative research groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan

Top policy analysts at these groups have written newspaper opinion pieces around the country supporting Wal-Mart, defended the company in interviews with reporters and testified on its behalf before government committees in Washington.

But the groups — and their employees — have consistently failed to disclose a tie to the giant discount retailer: financing from the Walton Family Foundation, which is run by the Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s three children, who have a controlling stake in the company.

The groups said the donations from the foundation have no influence over their research, which is deliberately kept separate from their fund-raising activities. What’s more, the pro-business philosophies of these groups often dovetail with the interests of Wal-Mart.

But the financing, which totaled more than $2.5 million over the last six years, according to data compiled by GuideStar, a research organization, raises questions about what the research groups should disclose to newspaper editors, reporters or government officials. The Walton Family Foundation must disclose its annual donations in forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service, but research groups are under no such obligation.

Companies and such groups have long courted one another — one seeking influence, the other donations — and liberal policy groups receive significant financing from unions and left-leaning organizations without disclosing their financing.

But the Walton donations could prove risky for Wal-Mart, given its escalating public relations campaign. The company’s quiet outreach to bloggers, beginning last year, touched off a debate about what online writers should disclose to readers, and its financing to policy groups could do the same.

Asked about the donations yesterday, Mona Williams, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said, “The fact is that editorial pages and prominent columnists of all stripes write favorably about our company because they recognize the value we provide to working families, the job opportunities we create and the contributions we make to the community we serve.”

At least five research and advocacy groups that have received Walton Family Foundation donations are vocal advocates of the company.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, for example, has received more than $100,000 from the foundation in the last three years, a fraction of the more than $24 million it raised in 2004 alone.

posted by Steve @ 1:46:00 AM

1:46:00 AM

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