WASHINGTON — The fashion industry so far appears to be voting Republican when it comes to the upcoming midterm Congressional elections in November.
Contributions from many of the industry’s largest political action committees to Republican candidates have outpaced those made to Democrats heading into the elections. Democrats currently hold a majority in the Senate, while Republicans have control of the House. Political experts generally feel that control of the Senate, where one-third of the seats are at stake, is in play, while the House should stay in GOP hands.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s PAC, by far the largest in the industry, has given $1.36 million to federal candidates in Congress this midterm election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that total, the retail giant gave $737,000, or 54 percent, to Republicans and $629,000, or 46 percent, to Democrats. The figures are based on contributions to candidates, party committees and leadership PACs for primaries and the general election from January 2013 through June 2014, and PACs still have another quarter to make contributions before the election.
During the last Congressional election cycle, in 2011-12, Wal-Mart’s PAC also gave more to Republicans ($792,000) than to Democrats ($638,500).
“Other than in 2008, when we had a Democratic presidential candidate who so out-fund-raised everyone else, I don’t think there has been a single cycle where Democrats have taken more from this industry than Republicans, and in some cycles by quite a factor,” said Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “So far in 2014, including individual contributions, the retail industry has given $5 million to Democrats and $8 million to Republicans.”
David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, said there is “no one-size-fits-all” to a candidate that a PAC supports, adding that the NRF looks at a variety of things when it comes to supporting a candidate, including a candidate who “understand and is generally supportive of retail issues,” is on a key congressional committee with jurisdiction over issues important to retailers and who has a “constructive” approach to governing.
Three such candidates who have been supportive of retail issues and are also recipients of multiple contributions from industry PACs in this election cycle are Sens. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.), Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.).
The majority of industry support has gone to incumbents on both sides of the aisle, many heavily favored to win reelection, including Enzi, Durbin and Alexander. Some industry PAC contributions are also targeting tight races, as is the case with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is surprisingly locked in one of the most closely watched, competitive races of the year against Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state.
“Without talking about PAC contributions, Durbin and Enzi have been very important to the retail community on a number of different issues,” French said. “They have been very supportive of retailing for many years. Sen. Enzi is a former retailer himself, a shoe retailer (NZ Shoes), and he understands retail very well. Certainly, Sen. Durbin has been a fierce advocate on behalf of retailers on many different issues, include Internet sales tax.”
Joe Rinzel, senior vice president for government relations at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said its PAC considers candidates who have a “healthy understanding” of retail issues, pointing to Enzi as a “great example” of how RILA’s PAC approaches giving to candidates.
“He was a retailer [and mayor of Gillette, Wyo.] before coming to Congress,” Rinzel said. “He understands the impact of particular issues from an economic standpoint and from a local political angle in terms of meeting budgets. He has been a longtime champion of retail issues across the board.”
The trio of senators are also cosponsors of a bill that will allow states to collect sales taxes from out-of-state online sellers — a top legislative priority for retailers who have been advocating for a federal fix to an Internet tax loophole on Capitol Hill for more than a decade.
Durbin has received $2,500 from Wal-Mart and $2,500 from Target Corp.’s PACs, $5,000 from Sears Holdings Corp. and the NRF, and $1,000 from RILA. Enzi has received $5,000 from Wal-Mart and RILA, $2,500 from J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Nike Inc., $3,000 from Sears, $10,000 from the International Council of Shopping Centers, and $6,500 from the NRF.
Alexander received $5,000 from Wal-Mart, $2,500 from Penney’s, $5,000 from Nike, $2,000 from Sears and the NRF, $1,000 from RILA and $6,000 from ICSC.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), chairman of the key House Judiciary Committee, which oversees many important retail issues, including the Internet sales tax issue, has also been a big recipient of retail PAC contributions in this cycle. He has received $5,000 from Wal-Mart, Penney’s and Target; $4,000 from Sears, $3,500 from the NRF, and $2,000 from RILA.
Top leaders in the House and Senate, including McConnell and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, have been major recipients of industry PAC contributions. In addition, industry money flowed to chairmen of key committees, as well as top contenders for open slots such as on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, which has given more to Democrats than to Republicans this cycle, said: “When we make contributions, we look to see who is supportive of the kinds of policies that our industry needs to compete. A lot of those policies concern trade issues, fighting for open markets both at home and abroad, reducing barriers, reducing burdens that restrict commerce and hurt jobs. We look to support Congressional candidates who have embraced those principles.”
AAFA made contributions to McConnell, who the group honored in 2012 with its Friend of the Apparel and Footwear Industry Award, crediting him at the time for being an “outspoken advocate” of free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, and restoring “common sense regulatory reforms.”
The AAFA PAC also gave to Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Tex.), a longtime free trade advocate who sits on the Ways and Means Committee. Brady is considered a top contender, along with Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), for the Ways and Means chairmanship. The current chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), is retiring this year.
Textile industry contributions leaned toward Republicans in this cycle to date, with the National Council of Textile Organizations giving 76 percent to Republicans and 39 percent to Democrats.
“We will look for members who are on [key] committees [such as Ways and Means, Agriculture and Armed Services] who have some propensity to be supportive of the industry, but that doesn’t mean to say we rule out people who aren’t overly supportive,” said Auggie Tantillo, president of NCTO. “We try to keep our focus on very tangible, very precise issues such as: ‘Where are you on various trade issues, such as [the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement]; Where are you on the Berry amendment [the law that pertains to Made in America government procurement]’ as factors again in conjunction to which committees they are on,” he said, adding that the group also takes into account districts where members have plants.
NCTO contributed $3,000 to longtime textile industry leader and advocate Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R., S.C.), whom Tantillo called a “slam dunk” for the PAC, as well as $4,000 to Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), who has been supportive and “open on overarching manufacturing issues like currency devaluation” particularly as it relates to China’s imports.
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