WASHINGTON — Political action committees of 11 key retailers have poured more than $426,500 into political campaigns this year, with large contributions going to Republican challengers for open Senate seats, according to Federal Election Commission reports through the end of September.
Wal-Mart Stores, the country’s biggest retailer, is also the biggest spender of the group and, as of Sept. 30, had given $137,400 to political candidates. J.C. Penney Co. came in second, with total contributions through the end of September of $93,600, according to the FEC.
Other retail PACs have given the following amounts to campaign war chests, according to FEC reports: Dayton Hudson Corp., $41,450; May Department Stores, $35,858; Spiegel Inc., $36,865; The Gap, $5,000; Sears, $5,750; Kmart, $25,916, and Montgomery Ward & Co., $44,733.
The Limited, with a tally only through August, contributed $56,833.
Federated Department Stores also has filed with the FEC, but reported its PAC contained no money.
It spent $57 to have checks printed in April, but has so far not written any to candidates, according to the FEC.
Retailers have given large amounts of cash to Republican candidates for open Senate seats in Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wyoming, states where the races are closest.
With the Republican’s chances of winning control of the Senate this year high, retailers are assisting them with the aim of forging a more business-friendly chamber, said Steve Pfister, vice president of political affairs for the National Retail Federation.
“When you look at many of these candidates,” Pfister said, “there is a clear-cut distinction on who pushes a pro-business agenda.”
Health care reform, trade and tax matters, along with organized labor’s quest to prohibit business from hiring replacements for striking workers, are expected to be considered by the 104th Congress next year, and it’s critical that business has friends in the Senate, Pfister said.
“With regard to these issues,” Pfister said, “we have an interest in a Republican Senate and Republican chairs of key committees.”
For instance, in a Republican-controlled Senate, Sen. Bob Packwood (R., Ore.), who defended retailers’ stance against a controversial rule of origin change for apparel that was included in the GATT implementing bill, would be chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Senate Republicans also opposed employer mandates in health care reform, an item that topped retail’s legislative agenda in 1994.
Among candidates getting retail cash are Jon Kyl, a Republican seeking the Arizona Senate seat, who has received $3,500 from Wal-Mart’s PAC; $2,000 each from Spiegel and J.C. Penney; $1,000 each from Kmart and Montgomery Ward, and $500 each from Dayton Hudson and The Limited.
Michael DeWine, a pro-business Republican seeking election to the Senate in Ohio, has received $3,500 from Wal-Mart’s PAC, $5,000 from Spiegel, $1,500 each from Dayton Hudson and The Limited and $1,000 each from Kmart, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward.
Republican Craig Thomas, seeking the open Senate seat in Wyoming, has gotten $1,500 from J.C. Penney and $1,000 from Wal-Mart, while Republican Spencer Abraham in Michigan has gotten $5,000 from Kmart and $3,500 from Wal-Mart for his Senate bid.
Rick Santorum, a Republican House member seeking to unseat Pennsylvania Democratic senator Harris Wofford, has gotten $3,500 from Wal-Mart and $1,000 each from Montgomery Ward, Kmart, May Department Stores and Spiegel.
Meanwhile, the NRF’s own PAC, which through September had donated only $6,674, spent most of its money on fund-raisers for Kyl of Arizona; Rep. Olympia Snowe, a Republican seeking a vacant Senate seat in Maine, and John Ashcroft, a Republican seeking an open Senate seat in Missouri.
The NRF also gave a fund-raiser for the reelection bid of Sen. Bob Kerrey (D., Neb.). The International Mass Retail Association, on the other hand, spent only $1,500 on a fund-raising event sponsored by the Republican National Committee, according to FEC reports.
Retailers, however, have not neglected powerful Democratic incumbents. Rep. Sam Gibbons (D., Fla.), acting chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a free trader, received $500 from Wal-Mart, $2,000 each from Dayton Hudson and Spiegel and $1,000 from Montgomery Ward.
Kmart gave $1,000 to the reelection bid of Sen. James Sasser (D., Tenn.), who is also making a bid to be Senate majority leader; The Limited gave Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) $1,000. J.C. Penney gave $1,000 each to the reelection efforts of Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D., Tex.); Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D., N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. John Dingell, (D., Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
In addition, The Gap made a $1,000 gift to New York governor Mario Cuomo’s reelection bid.
— Fairchild News Service

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