By  on August 9, 2010

WASHINGTON — The fashion industry is clearly backing the party now in power in Congress — while hedging its bets in case the Republicans gain some ground.

Several of the industry’s apparel retail political action committees, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have put more money behind Democrats so far in this congressional election cycle, compared with two years ago.

Wal-Mart’s PAC, by far the largest in the industry, has given $460,500 (54 percent) to Democratic candidates in the run-up to the Nov. 2 congressional elections — when all of the House’s and a third of the Senate’s seats are up for grabs — compared with $390,550 (45 percent) to Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The figures are based on contributions from January 2009 through June 2010, and PACs still have another quarter to make contributions before the election.

During the last congressional election cycle, in 2007-2008, Wal-Mart’s PAC gave more to Republicans ($655,000) than to Democrats ($573,700). Since then, Barack Obama has become president and Democrats increased their majorities in the House and the Senate.

“That is in line with what we are seeing in other industries and from the greater retail industry,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “There is an evening up, and more industries that might have trended Republican are hedging their bets by giving closer to 50-50 to both.”

Krumholz said Wal-Mart, and the retail industry in general, is more of an “outlier” when compared with other sectors, which typically give 60-40 to the party in power.

“That might have to do with how much retail has traditionally leaned to the GOP, because it is more concerned about taxation,” she said.

In the overall retail category, which includes a broader array of PACs, including apparel retailers, home builders, electronics and drug stores, Republicans have still outpaced Democrats in contributions, but the gap has tightened. Republicans received 52 percent of a total of $3.5 million in contributions in this cycle, while Democrats received 48 percent, according to the center. The split was 55 percent Republican and 44 percent Democrat in the last cycle, so contributions to Democrats have increased proportionally so far.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) received $10,000 from Wal-Mart, $1,500 from the Retail Industry Leaders of America, $5,000 from Target and $5,000 from the International Council of Shopping Centers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) received only a $1,000 contribution from Gap Inc., which is headquartered in her district in San Francisco. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who, unlike Pelosi, is in a hotly contested race, got $5,000 each from Target and ICSC.

Rep. Dan Boren (D., Okla.) received several industry contributions, including $3,500 from the National Retail Federation, $2,000 from RILA, $10,000 from Wal-Mart and $1,000 from Target, while Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.) got $13,000 from Wal-Mart, $5,000 from RILA, $3,000 from J.C. Penney Co. Inc., $2,000 from Gap and $1,000 from the NRF.

“Some issues are weighted more than others, and obviously the Employee Free Choice Act [a bill that would make it easier for unions to organize workers] was the number-one priority for the retail and business community, and that probably had the biggest impact on what a lot of folks did,” said John Emling, senior vice president for government affairs for RILA. “What instructs a lot of giving, and one reason why Republicans continue to have success in raising money in the business community, is they are seen as having a more pro-growth and business-friendly philosophy.”

Both Boren and Lincoln opposed EFCA and have taken pro-business positions on many policy issues, he said. RILA has given $37,000 to Republican federal candidates and $19,000 to Democratic federal candidates thus far in the cycle.

The top Republicans in the House were big recipients of industry PAC contributions. Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) received $6,000 from Wal-Mart, $2,500 from Limited Brands Inc., $5,000 from NRF and $7,500 from ICSC. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R., Va.) received $5,000 from Wal-Mart, $10,000 from Target, $5,000 from NRF, $2,000 from RILA and $10,000 from ICSC. The American Apparel & Footwear Association gave $3,500 to Cantor’s leadership PAC, known as Every Republican Is Crucial, or ERICPAC, while Target gave $5,000 and the ICSC gave $10,000.

“Cantor and Boehner have been staunch advocates of the business side of the equation on virtually every major piece of legislation coming down the pike,” said Steve Pfister, senior vice president for government relations at the NRF. “They are stalwart allies of the business community.”

The NRF has given $19,000 to Republicans and $14,000 to Democrats.

The two top Republicans on the trade and tax writing committees were also big recipients of industry contributions. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, received $5,000 from Target, $2,500 from NRF, $3,000 from RILA, $7,500 from ICSC, $6,500 from Wal-Mart and $1,500 from Sears Holdings Corp. Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Ways & Means Committee, was given $2,000 from RILA, $7,000 from ICSC, $10,000 from Wal-Mart and $2,000 from Target.

“Dave Camp is solid up and down on the breadth of issues our industry cares about, from tax to trade policy,” said Emling. “He is also someone who has a proven track record of working with the other side and the ability to build bridges.”

Textile industry contributions leaned toward the party in power: Democrats received 60 percent of textile PAC contributions while Republicans received 40 percent. The National Council of Textile Organizations significantly increased its contributions, surpassing the entire previous cycle’s contributions in this cycle with a quarter of giving still left. NCTO has given $91,200 in this cycle, compared with $61,600 two years earlier.

NCTO gave $1,000 each to the two co-chairs of the House Textile Caucus, Reps. Howard Coble (R., N.C.) and John Spratt (D., S.C.), and the group also continued to expand beyond its textile-state base to reach out to lawmakers who have supported a “fair-trade” agenda. The group gave $1,000 to House Ways and Means chairman Sander Levin (D., Mich.), $1,500 to Rep. Mike Michaud (D., Maine) and $1,000 to Rep. Phil Hare (D., Ill.)

Trade issues played a role in some of the AAFA’s contributions. It gave a $2,000 contribution to Rep. Joseph Crowley (D., N.Y.) and $1,000 to Kevin Brady (R., Tex.), the sponsors of a bill that eliminated $800 million in duties the U.S. collects on footwear imports annually.

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