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WASHINGTON — The industry’s political action committees have poured thousands of dollars into key congressional races in the run-up to the Nov. 4 elections with the aim of putting people into office who share fashion’s views on issues such as international trade, port security and organizing labor unions.
With the entire House and one-third of the Senate at stake, the apparel, textile and retail industry’s PACs gave to Democrats and Republicans in tight contests during the 2007-’08 election cycle, Federal Election Commission records show. Democrats control the House and Senate and are seeking to maintain and increase their margins to push their agenda, while Republicans are struggling to hold onto seats.
The top Democrats on trade and tax legislation in the House and Senate were big recipients of industry PAC contributions. House Ways & Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), who has supported some trade-expanding measures, received $5,500 from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., $5,000 from Target Corp., $2,000 from Sears Holdings Corp. and $1,000 from J.C. Penney Co. Inc. The National Retail Federation gave $2,500 to Rangel, while the American Apparel & Footwear Association and Retail Industry Leaders Association each gave him $1,000.
Kevin Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of the AAFA, which has given a total of $63,500 to candidates in this cycle, said Rangel “has been a proponent of the Affordable Footwear Act,” a bill that would temporarily eliminate duties on several lower-priced footwear styles, “and he is open to free trade discussions and worked well with his Republican colleagues in talking about free trade.”
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D., N.Y.), who cosponsored the Affordable Footwear Act, received $7,500 from Target, $3,500 from the AAFA, $2,000 from RILA and $1,000 each from Penney’s, Sears and the NRF. Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade and tax legislation, received $7,000 from Wal-Mart, $2,500 from Target, $2,000 from Sears, $1,000 from Penney’s, $5,000 from the NRF, $1,500 from RILA and $1,000 from the AAFA.
Wal-Mart Stores’ PAC, by far the largest in the industry, gave a total of $1.7 million to political candidates in the 2007-’08 election cycle. Target’s PAC gave $396,800, Penney’s gave $136,913 and Sears gave $72,000.
Retailers and importers also lined up to support two GOP senators who sit on the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee. Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), the committee’s ranking Republican, received $10,000 each from Wal-Mart and Target, as well as smaller contributions from Penney’s, AAFA, NRF and RILA. Sen. Norm Coleman (R., Minn.) received $9,000 from Wal-Mart and $5,000 from Sears among its industry contributions.
Both Republican senators played a pivotal role in opposing a legislative proposal requiring 100 percent scanning of all U.S.-bound cargo containers. Congress eventually passed the measure and it was signed into law, but with a long phase-in time for foreign ports.
One of the most challenging and defining textile-state races this year is for the seat of incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.), who has been a champion of textile causes.
“She is in a tough race and we will lose an important ally if she loses that race,” said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, which gave $4,200 to Dole and a total of $57,000 to all candidates.
Johnson said Dole paved the way for the textile industry to meet with then-U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to air concerns about import surges from China and the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Dole, who is in a tight race against state senator Kay Hagan, received $5,000 from Wal-Mart and $1,000 from Penney’s.
NCTO also expanded beyond its base to include lawmakers who have supported “fair trade” issues and a less aggressive trade agenda, giving $1,000 each to Reps. Mike Michaud (D., Maine) and Phil Hare (D., Ill).
Among Republican incumbents getting industry support were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) who got $7,700 from Wal-Mart and $5,000 from Target, NRF and RILA. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) received $10,000 from Wal-Mart, $2,500 from Penney’s and $1,000 from Sears. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) received $10,000 each from Wal-Mart and Target and $1,000 from Penney’s.
UNITE HERE’s PAC gave $1.5 million to candidates focused on advocates of workers’ rights, such as Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.), who received $10,000 from the union. Miller was a key figure in shepherding through a bill that would make it easier for unions to organize, although it stalled in the Senate and was never enacted.