Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Campaign contributions from corporations are as dependable in Washington as the cherry blossoms that bloom along the shores of the Potomac each spring.
Retail companies are among the active players in the political mainstay of financing campaigns, particularly this election year, since control of the House and Senate, as well as the White House, is on the line.
Companies set up political action committees, or PACs, that are filled with money largely raised from the ranks of executives, as well as lower-level employees. The money is then generally directed at congressional lawmakers who support legislation, or governing ideals, that would benefit a company. Money is also directed toward Republican or Democratic campaign committees, which in turn support individual candidates.
In the case of Wal-Mart, it’s not only the world’s largest retailer, but it also has the largest retail industry PAC entering the Nov. 7 election. Wal-Mart has amassed a war chest of $521,775 so far this two-year election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records through June 30.
The discount chain has disbursed $304,035 in contributions. The list of recipients generally favors Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.), who’s favored for reelection and will likely remain as gatekeeper to legislation should the GOP retain control of the Senate.
One of the Democratic exceptions in Wal-Mart’s political giving is Rep. Cal Dooley (D., Calif.), whose seat is also relatively secure. Dooley, who received $1,000 from Wal-Mart, is one of the free-traders in his party who pushed his colleagues to support permanent normal trade relations status for China, a key step in that country’s bid to join the World Trade Organization.
As a WTO member, China has pledged to eliminate restrictions on retailing, which would benefit Wal-Mart with a half-dozen stores already there and plans for expansion.
Wal-Mart also has answered the GOP call to help incumbents who are in danger of losing their seats, which collectively could tilt the majority in the House or Senate in favor of Democrats. This is the case in Pennsylvania, where Wal-Mart has given $2,000 to Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who is in a tight race with Democratic challenger Rep. Ron Klink.
The discounter also has given $5,000 to Rep. Don Sherwood (R., Pa.), who’s in a rematch with former state Democratic Gov. Robert Casey. In 1998, Casey lost to Sherwood by 515 votes, in the northeast Pennsylvania district, where pro-Casey workers in the area’s dwindling garment industry are making Sherwood’s vote for China PNTR an issue.
Similar themes in political contribution are repeated in other industry PACs, including the second largest retail PAC run by May Department Stores, which as of Aug. 31 has amassed a $267,917 war chest this election cycle and disbursed $123,062. During the same period, the J.C. Penney Co. PAC has raised $259,566 and contributed $142,409, and The Limited’s PAC has collected $248,803 and written checks for $202,750.
Other retail PACs active in this election cycle, but whose last reporting date was June 30, include Target Corp., with $115,683 raised and contributions of $101,500; Gap, with $42,620 raised and $30,250 disbursed; Kmart, with $28,500 raised and $26,679 in contributions; and Sears, with $113,039 raised and $43,500 contributed.