Walmart Withdraws from ALEC, Wallows in Bribery Scandal

Mike Duke photoIn an unsurprising, capitulatory move last week, Walmart joined several other major companies and withdrew its membership from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which advances the principles of free markets and limited government at the state level through legislative idea exchanges.

The move preceded Friday’s annual shareholder meeting, in which executives emphasized their commitment to principles of integrity. That came into question especially since April, when the New York Times revealed that company officials authorized millions of dollars in bribes in order to expedite building permits and other favors in Mexico.

A number of investors and pension funds attempted to remove some Walmart directors from the board, including CEO Mike Duke (in picture), former CEO Lee Scott, and S. Robson “Rob” Walton, son of company founder Sam Walton. Because the family holds nearly 50 percent of stock in the company, proposals they don’t support will always fail unless their unity is broken or more of their ownership is sold.

Walmart followed several other companies in dropping support for ALEC, which has been targeted by the liberal pressure group Color of Change, founded by avowed Communist Van Jones, who resigned as Barack Obama’s “green jobs” czar after his political views were exposed. ALEC is the liberals’ most recent foil because of its involvement in “stand your ground” laws that achieved notoriety after the Trayvon Robinson killing in Florida, and also because of efforts to require citizens to show photo identification when they show up to vote in elections. Coca-Cola Inc., PepsiCo, McDonald’s Corp., Kraft Foods, Inc., and Procter & Gamble Co. are also among those that have withdrawn their involvement with ALEC.

While Walmart and the Waltons still enjoy somewhat of a conservative reputation with continued support for initiatives like school choice, for the most part they have become more identified with liberal causes. In past annual meetings National Legal and Policy Center, a Walmart shareholder, has challenged leadership’s judgment via proposals over their support for government policies such as Obamacare and cap-and-trade. But these positions don’t indicate simple political calculations to appease the majority of their potential customers; instead they reflect the genuine worldview of company leadership.

Among those leaders are Vice President for Corporate Affairs Leslie Dach, who previously worked for often environmentally extreme groups and “is active as a senior strategist in Democrat politics,” according to his World Resources Institute bio. He worked in the Clinton administration, served as a senior adviser for Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, and has been a top strategist for at least two Democratic conventions.

“Over the past year I’ve seen firsthand Walmart’s transformation on sustainability and health care and its record on economic opportunity and job creation, “Dach said when he was hired in July 2006. “The changes are real and substantial steps for the business. I look forward to working with Walmart and its senior management to continue on its path of change.” 

That senior leadership includes Matt Kistler, now a marketing vice president but who was previously vice president of sustainability, who believes world population growth is not as much of an economic growth opportunity for Walmart as it is a constraint that needs to be adjusted for. Those views extend to the Walton family itself, including Chairman of the Board Rob, who (along with previous CEO Lee Scott) have fallen under the persuasion of people like environmentalist corporate adviser Jib Ellisen, a former wilderness expeditionist and river guide who elevates ineffective “sustainability” (with initiatives such as deployment of costly solar panels and compact flourescent lighting) over profitability. The company has even released its own guidance document that dictates how it will reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, the Walton Family Foundation has funded extreme groups like Environmental Defense, World Wildlife Fund, and Ocean Conservancy to put public waters off limits to fisherman, a move the Recreational Fishing Alliance called an attempt to “fund the demise of both the recreational and commercial fishing industry,” noting especially Ocean Conservancy’s desire to eliminate access. 

As NLPC president Peter Flaherty said at Walmart’s 2011 annual shareholder meeting:

Walmart is in the grip of political ideologues. On its website it says that its goal is to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, which is neither achievable nor desirable. This goal is revealing, however, about the philosophical orientation of the people that Walmart behind it. They are seemingly hostile to capitalism, progress, technology and the 21st century itself.

So it shouldn’t surprise that the Walton family joined pressure group Color of Change in its fight against ALEC and the principles of free markets and limited government, in addition to voter integrity. As the National Center for Public Policy Research wrote recently, “Opponents of voter ID frequently make the jaw-dropping and almost certainly racist claim that black and Hispanic citizens are less able than white Americans to obtain a government-issued ID (even when they are free, as in Texas), so it is amazing that opponents of voter integrity safeguards claim others are racist.” NCPPR even illustrated the hypocrisy at the annual meeting of Yum! Brands – another ALEC defector – by noting how the company (owner of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell) required photo IDs to enter the meeting.

“I was also offended that YUM! company officials demanded to see my photo ID before I was permitted to enter the meeting,” said NCPPR General Counsel Justin Danhof. “If YUM! agrees with the Color of Change and the radical communist Van Jones that voter ID laws are racist, why did the company force me and every other shareholder to present a valid government-issued photo ID to enter today’s shareholder meeting? Either YUM! is a racist company or its officials are blatant hypocrites.”

As are those directors and executives that lead Walmart, who also require a photo ID to gain entry to its shareholder meetings.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center.