WASHINGTON — House and Senate races have taken a backseat to the presidential race this year, but retail and specialty store chains focused on special issues have invested millions of dollars in supporting congressional candidates.
A great majority of retail political contributions have gone to Capitol Hill candidates who are viewed as friendly to business and largely favor Republicans.
The political action committee run by Wal-Mart Inc. leads apparel retailers in terms of political giving this election. The world’s largest company has contributed most of its $2.5 million this two-year election cycle to GOP candidates and PACs and has $108,790 left in its war chest, according to the Federal Election Commission. Wal-Mart spent $667,805 in the comparable election cycle of 2000.
But Wal-Mart and other retailers haven’t ignored Democrats. For example, Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), a backer of many trade pacts, received $5,000 from Wal-Mart’s PAC, even though Rangel bucks retailers in opposing tax cuts and advocating an increase in the $5.15 an hour federal minimum wage.
Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s PAC comes in second among apparel retailers with $295,221 in contributions and $264,373 to spend. Sears’ political giving is well above the year 2000, when it wrote $109,330 in campaign checks.
A Sears spokesman attributed the boost in Sears’ PAC contributions to its government affairs staff working hard “to educate employees” about the ways of politics. Business PACs, including Sears, are typically filled with donations from executives and the ranks of managers.
“Public policy decisions made by elected officials have an impact on our ability to serve our customers and operate our business,” the spokesman said.
Some retailers choose not to have PACs or they keep a nominal amount in their political bank accounts.
Federated Department Stores, for example, hasn’t raised any money this election cycle, but used $3,000 of its PAC’s $8,428 cash on hand to give $1,000 to its hometown Cincinnati Republican Rep. Steve Chabot and $2,000 to GOP Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine. Federated officials have said having a PAC isn’t a priority.
The retail political agenda is varied and that means supporting politicians who favor expanding international trade and reforming laws to curb bankruptcies while opposing a national sales tax and increases in the minimum wage. The industry is also eager to see health care reform take shape, which would lower escalating employee benefit costs.Aside from where a candidate stands on retail issues, a spokeswoman for J.C. Penney Co. said congressional incumbents in positions of leadership in both parties or holding key committee posts carry weight in deciding where to place Penney’s PAC contributions. In addition, “the dynamics of a race,” in which a retail-friendly candidate may need more support, is a factor. Penney’s has made $133,984 in political contributions this election and has $112,676 left to give. In the 2000 election, the retailer’s PAC gave $237,209.
The amount of PAC contributions allowed is regulated by the FEC. A candidate can receive up to $5,000 from a PAC separately for primary and general elections.
Among candidates earmarked this election by retailers for PAC contributions in closely contested races include GOP Rep. Richard Burr from North Carolina, who is vying for the North Carolina Senate seat being vacated by Sen. John Edwards, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s running mate. Burr supports tax cuts and has generally backed President Bush’s expansive trade policies, while Democratic opponent Erskine Bowles opposes tax breaks and Bush’s trade policies.
An example of an influential House incumbent getting retail PAC money is House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R., Texas). DeLay’s job is to ensure there are enough GOP votes to pass party-backed legislation, such as a measure in 2001 repealing Clinton administration ergonomic Occupational Safety & Health Administration rules and President Bush’s $2 trillion tax cut bill.
While apparel retailers, like other businesses, generally steer the bulk of their contributions to Republicans, an exception this election is Gap, which gave 68 percent of its $34,143 to Democrats.
An example of a Democrat garnering retail industry support is Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a member of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees trade legislation. Lincoln has raised $6 million in campaign funds, including contributions from Wal-Mart, Target Corp., The Limited, J.C. Penney and May Department Stores. GOP opponent state Rep. Jim Holt has raised $97,290.
A third of the 100-member Senate is up for reelection Tuesday, but there are several races for open seats or Republican-held seats, such as in Illinois, Oklahoma and Kentucky, that are considered so closely contested that Democratic victories could lead to the party claiming majority power in the chamber. The GOP majority in the House is considered less threatened. However, the expected high voter turnout is considered to be a wild card in forecasting dominance by either party in either chamber.“Nobody knows how the election will turn out,” said Steve Pfister, senior vice president of government relations with the National Retail Federation, the lobbying arm of department and specialty stores.
The NRF’s PAC this election has contributed $190,850 to House and Senate candidates and has $32,142 left to spend. In contrast, in 2000, NRF PAC contributions were $165,000.
The Retail Industry Leaders’ Association, the lobbying arm of retail discount chains including Wal-Mart, has contributed $33,855 through its PAC and has $3,464 cash on hand. In 2000, the association spent $23,250 on political giving.
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye