In a new twist on offering to match employee donations, Walmart may have run afoul of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules. Walmart has a program targeting it shareholders, professional employees, managers and executives that essentially states: for every $1 donated to Walmart’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Walmart will donate $2 to Walmart’s company-run charity. Though companies such as the Coca-Cola Corporation have perfectly legitimate matching-donations programs, Walmart’s plan drew rapid complaints filed with the FEC.
The complainants against Walmart’s program include a consumer rights activist group called Public Citizen, a lobbying organization for government accountability called “Common Cause” and a labor group representing Walmart employees called “OUR Walmart.” These 3 groups claim that Walmart has knowingly violated Federal Election rules to further the company’s own interests, both politically and financially.
According to the complainants, Walmart’s program is particularly objectionable on two grounds. First, it offers a 2-1 incentive for donations to the company PAC, constituting undue incentive to donate and undermining the voluntariness of the donations. Secondly, the program gives no choice in the charity to which Walmart will donate, forcing employees to accept company donations to the company’s own self-serving charity for employees in need, even as Walmart’s PAC ironically supports candidates who vote against minimum wage increases for its workers.
Walmart’s PAC, “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Political Action Committee for Responsible Government,” raised a reported $2.6 million for this election cycle. As is usually the case, the PAC is distinct from the company but supports issues favorable to the company (surprise!). Thus far, Walmart’s PAC has supposedly donated 49% to Democratic candidates and 51% to Republican candidates.
The legality of Walmart’s program remains to be seen. Some claim the additional twists of $2-for-$1 and sole company-run charity will lead FEC commissioners’ to find violations of FEC rules. Still others claim that Walmart’s program is a clever and perfectly legal maneuver through loopholes offered by the nation’s campaign finance laws.
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