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.

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