Attention, Wal-Mart shoppers, er, critics
Aides to Kucinich, Nader, Dean bought supplies from chain
Monday, October 17, 2005
Plain Dealer Bureau Chief
-- Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Howard Dean and others on the national stage have badmouthed Wal-Mart over its wages, benefits or impact on American communities.
Yet, their aides have bought office and campaign supplies there -- and presumably saved their bosses money with the low-price shopping. Records reviewed by The Plain Dealer show that political organizations headed by these politicians -- as well as John Kerry, Wesley Clark, the liberal activist group America Coming Together and the pro-feminist group Emily's List -- have spent money at Wal-Mart over the last 2½ years.
Leaders and advisers of these groups have either criticized Wal-Mart or are lobbying to stop Wal-Mart's spread in cities including Cleveland.
They say Wal-Mart symbolizes the human cost of relentlessly pursuing lower retail prices: low pay and insufficient benefits for the chain's employees, and the financial destruction of small merchants.
Why, then, have their aides been cruising Wal-Mart aisles with their bosses' money?
Robert McAdam, Wal-Mart's vice president of corporate affairs, suspects he knows.
"We serve so many people because we're the place that's convenient to go and at low prices," said McAdam, who disputes the criticisms leveled at his employer. "So if you're in charge of managing precious resources for a campaign, which traditionally always struggle to have the right amount of money they need, I can't imagine they'd make any other choice."
The politicians have a different take: Their staffs screwed up. "A presidential campaign is a 50-state campaign that uses thousands of staff and volunteers," said Doug Gordon, spokesman for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Cleveland. Kucinich ran for president and his campaign spent $520 on several Wal-Mart shopping trips in Cleveland Heights and Fairfield, Iowa -- in violation of his policy of using only union shops.
"Apparently, a few staffers, or volunteers, did not follow this guidance and spent a small amount of money at Wal-Mart," Gordon said.
Likewise, Tubbs Jones, a Democratic congresswoman from Cleveland whose re-election campaign spent $40 at Wal-Mart in May 2004, "has instructed her campaign and congressional offices to not make any purchases at Wal-Mart," said her spokeswoman, Nicole Williams. Theresa Amato, Nader's campaign manager, said the Nader campaign's $492 in Wal-Mart purchases last year were probably made by a volunteer with few shopping options in small towns. Nader, she says, has "never stepped foot in a Wal-Mart."
The Plain Dealer tracked the purchases of office supplies, food and other items through a database of campaign finance records maintained by Political Money Line. The biggest Wal-Mart spender among its critics: John Kerry's failed presidential campaign, with $7,196. Kerry had said Wal-Mart offered inadequate health insurance, and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, said Wal-Mart was "destroying communities."
The campaign of Howard Dean, now Democratic Party chairman, spent $4,396 when he was running for president, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- an arm of the national party -- spent $4,262. Clark, the retired general who ran for the Democratic nomination, spent $1,875.
These expenditures are especially noteworthy because of the anti-Wal-Mart activism of former Dean and Clark advisers and staffers. Dean political operatives Buffy Wicks and Jeremy Bird in April helped launch "Wake-Up Wal-Mart," an anti-Wal-Mart campaign financed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. A Clark adviser, Chris Kofinis, is Wake-Up Wal-Mart's communications director.
Kofinis said he could not speak to the Clark campaign's expenditures. But he said: "When I was with the Clark campaign, I was focused on electing Clark. The Wal-Mart issue was not on my radar. I'm not being a hypocrite about it."
The same goes, he said, for a number of others, including candidates who as recently as last year "were not aware of the serious negative effects that Wal-Mart was having on this country."
Wal-Mart's not buying it.
"That's difficult to understand, because the candidates spoke about Wal-Mart in the last campaign," McAdam, the corporate affairs vice president, said. "All of them did. That's a bit of a dodge, I think."
Nedra Shelly of The Plain Dealer's Washington bureau, contributed to this story.