We're getting a Supercenter 

Sources tell me Wal-Mart is preparing to open a government affairs office in Little Rock to lobby state legislators.

This is big news on a variety of levels, beginning with the implicit acknowledgement that the retail giant is like a stranger in its own home state.

A 3-1/2-hour drive separates Wal-Mart’s Bentonville headquarters from the state Capitol, and it takes even less time to make the trip on one of the company’s many corporate jets. But Wal-Mart has decided it is necessary to be the only Arkansas business with a separate Little Rock office devoted solely to maintaining its in-state political relationships.

The operation will be directed by Laurie Smalling, who was an aide to former U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey before joining Wal-Mart’s Washington, D.C., office as manager of public affairs.

In fact, Smalling witnessed first-hand the expansion of Wal-Mart’s federal lobbying efforts, which were practically non-existent 10 years ago. The company finally opened a small D.C. political shop in 1999, but it waited five years before hiring several well-known and experienced lobbyists to join its operation there.

"The increased federal presence is driven by an increase in issues that affect our everyday operations," Smalling told the Arkansas News Bureau in January 2004, explaining the additions to the staff.

At the same time, Wal-Mart and the Walton family decided to invest heavily in federal campaign contributions. According to a July 2005 article in the New Republic magazine: "Giving about 80 percent to Republicans, [Wal-Mart] laid out $1.67 million in the 2004 cycle, more than triple its 2000 spending, and far more than other Fortune 500 leaders. … What’s more, the Walton family, which still controls about 40 percent of the company, has quickly become a major force in Washington in its own right. The Waltons gave millions to conservative candidates and groups in 2004, including $2.6 million to Progress for America, a GOP 527 organization. Aubrey Rothrock III, a partner at star lobbying shop Patton Boggs, works for both the Walton family and Wal-Mart. Overall, according to USA Today, the Walton family spent $3.2 million on lobbying, candidates, and conservative causes during the 2004 cycle, more than twice what it spent in the previous two elections combined."

The lesson to take away from Wal-Mart’s Washington experience is not the partisan favoritism, even though it’s not totally irrelevant. Don’t forget that the Republicans controlled the Congress during that time, and then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had instituted strict rules giving special treatment to lobbyists and corporations that contributed only to the GOP. So Wal-Mart was mainly just playing the game, and when the company turns its attention to the mostly Democratic Arkansas legislature, its short-term partisan leanings will likely be very different.

No, the more important point to draw from the D.C. example is simply that Wal-Mart will do what is necessary to secure influence and get what it wants.

And in a state where legislative votes are routinely won with free beer and a buffet, the prospect of the world’s largest corporation focusing its unlimited resources on shaping public policy is breathtaking.

It’s not like Wal-Mart doesn’t already have clout at the Arkansas legislature. Bentonville state Rep. Horace Hardwick does the company’s and the family’s bidding, including sponsoring a 2005 bill designed solely to exempt Alice Walton from paying sales tax on multimillion-dollar paintings she is acquiring for her new museum. Hardwick’s colleagues raised no objections, no doubt because they have a soft spot for fine art.

Now, with a Little Rock office set to open, Wal-Mart will be in an even stronger position to enact favorable measures and head off undesirable laws, such as those that would require the company to contribute more to its employees’ health care (as Maryland passed) or impose zoning and development restrictions (as exist in several states).

And we shouldn’t overlook the Walton family’s public education agenda, toward which they have spent millions of tax-deductible dollars through their charitable foundation to underwrite charter schools, merit pay initiatives and an entire Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Why wouldn’t they eventually try to get their policy preferences written into law?

With an enhanced focus on the Arkansas legislature — where money buys influence and power is rarely challenged — who could possibly stop them?


From the ArkTimes store


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • But what about the Clintons? Last refuge of Trump, New York Times

    Trying to compare Donald Trump's reaction to the Russia investigation with Bill Clinton's dealings with Kenneth Starr should be a non-starter if the facts mattered. But these days — and to the New York Times — it ain't necessarily so.
    • Jul 23, 2017
  • Football is king, Bentonville edition

    Good analysis in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of an unannounced Bentonville School Board vote last week to put $2 million into a football stadium for West High School despite board assurances in last May's tax election that no money would go to a football stadium.
    • Jul 23, 2017
  • Dinner and dancing in Dogtown

    A good night out in Argenta. Looking for the theater? Consider "Sweet Charity."
    • Jul 23, 2017
  • More »

More by Warwick Sabin

  • Helena's disappearing buildings

    Preservationists hope to slow demolitions.
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Trailers headed to Dumas

    Gov. Mike Beebe issued the following statement earlier today: Although this decision by FEMA to deny emergency funds to Desha County defies common sense, Arkansas will take care of its own people.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • Youth Ranch robbed, vandalized

    According to a press release we just received: The Donald W. Reynolds Campus of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches (The Ranch) located near Fort Smith was vandalized overnight Thursday.  Items stolen during the break-in included all of the children’s saddles, food, tools and supplies from The Ranch’s carpentry shop and all equipment from its auto shop.  An investigation is underway with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • More »

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Warwick Sabin

  • Trickle-up theory

    Through thick and thin, there has always been one group of dedicated Americans whose support for President George W. Bush has been unwavering: The wealthy.
    • Mar 8, 2007
  • Time to go

    Tough questions face us in Iraq and it's time to confront them directly.
    • Mar 1, 2007
  • Plugged in

    One reason why the South remained solidly Democratic during the mid-20th century was the enduring gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought electricity to the poor, rural parts of the region. According to one historical account, “Althou
    • Feb 22, 2007
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Pay attention

    • I have attended community meetings about the recent spike in violence in LR, and police…

    • on July 22, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • Adawson's comments attribute the plight of black people in the United States to the War…

    • on July 22, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • Heather Wilson, blacks have NOT been prevented from pursuing the skilled trades as a result…

    • on July 22, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation