- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s had to defend her deep ties to Wal-Mart for years, but the history of campaign donations and her service on the Arkansas-based corporate giant’s board are playing into Sen. Bernard Sanders’ hands this year.

Unlike many other liberals, Mrs. Clinton and her husband have refused to publicly brutalize Wal-Mart over the company’s pay scale and anti-union policies, leaving her open to attacks from Mr. Sanders and his allies, who say it’s proof she can’t be trusted to carry the economic warfare message Democrats need this year.

Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of the chain of big box stores, gave Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic National Committee Victory Fund $353,000 in December, a contribution just made public last month. Before that she contributed $25,000 to the Ready for Hillary political action committee.

Mrs. Clinton gave critics a new target last week when her campaign treasurer traveled to Mexico to host a campaign fundraiser with some of Walmart’s top brass.

Progressive websites like the Daily Kos, have been questioning Mrs. Clinton’s Wal-Mart ties and her blatant refusal to admit she’s swayed in anyway by corporate donations.

“One of the greatest issues of the coming election for president of the United States and perhaps the most burning issue for progressives in this nation is the involvement of corporate money and how it corrupts the system,” the Daily Kos said in a January article titled “Hillary, Wal-Mart and the Revolving Door.”

Mother Jones, The Progressive Press, and the Huffington Post have all followed up with like articles, detailing Mrs. Clinton’s troubling ties to Wal-Mart.

Mr. Sanders hasn’t attacked Mrs. Clinton specifically, but has taken aim at Wal-Mart, blasting the company’s owners in a campaign speech in Keene, New Hampshire, earlier this month.

“Today Wal-Mart is the largest private sector employer in America. Yet many, many of their employees are forced to go on food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing that you pay for through your taxes because the Walton family refuses to pay their workers a living wage,” Mr. Sanders said.

Paired with Mr. Sanders’ broader economic message, the attack is paying off in the Democratic primary. Mr. Sanders walloped Mrs. Clinton by double digits, winning most voter demographics including the coveted middle-class white worker.

Neither the company nor Mrs. Clinton’s campaign returned messages seeking comment.

Wal-Mart is based in Arkansas, where former President Clinton was governor for years. The Walton family and the Clintons ran in the same social circles.

According to multiple reports, it was Ms. Walton, the recent donor to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid, who lobbied her father to give Mrs. Clinton a seat on Walmart’s board of directors. It was while Mrs. Clinton was serving as first lady of Arkansas and was a lawyer at the Rose Law Firm. Mrs. Clinton held the director position from 1986 to 1992, earning $18,000 a year with a bonus of $1,500 for each quarterly board meeting she attended. During the time Mrs. Clinton amassed $100,000 in Wal-Mart stock.

In addition, the Walton Family Foundation has donated between $1 million to $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, with their latest contribution recorded in the fourth quarter of last year. In return, Mr. Clinton has often praised the corporation and its activities.

Last year, the Clinton Foundation interviewed Sarah Thorn, senior director of Federal Government Relations at Wal-Mart, for a glowing feature of what the retailer is doing to empower young women, which is still posted on their website.

And last week Mrs. Clinton’s campaign treasurer, Jose Villarreal, attended a fundraiser discussion and dinner hosted by Ivan Zapien, Walmart’s vice president of corporate affairs in Mexico. Mr. Zapien, who previously served as the company’s top lobbyist in Washington, maxed out in personal contributions to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign last year.

Mr. Villarreal also has his own deep ties to Wal-Mart, having served on the company’s board from 1998 to 2006.

It was during his tenure, later detailed in a New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation, that Wal-Mart management suppressed an inquiry into whether there was a widespread campaign of the company of bribing Mexican elected officials to more quickly obtain store licenses in possible violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). It is unclear whether Mr. Villarreal would have known about the scandal at the time.

After the story broke in 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice started an investigation into the matter. Mr. Zapien was serving as Walmart’s top lobbyist at the time and convened a group of outside consultants to brainstorm how the retailer could blunt the federal investigation and minimize the public relations fallout.

Wal-Mart has yet to settle with the DOJ over the issue.

One month after the Times report, Mrs. Clinton, who was State Department secretary at the time, lobbied government officials in India to reform their foreign direct investment policies to benefit American retailers like Wal-Mart. Later that same year, she brought Wal-Mart executives on a trip to South Africa to increase their access to that country’s consumers.

Mrs. Clinton’s long-standing ties to the retail giant have caused her issues in the past — most notably in the 2008 presidential election when she was running against then then-Sen. Barack Obama, who criticized her for the connection.

“While I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart,” Mr. Obama said to Mrs. Clinton during a January 2008 debate.

A 2007 New York Times article found Mrs. Clinton failed to advance union causes during her time on the company’s board, and a 2008 ABC News review of videotapes from Wal-Mart meetings found that “Clinton remained silent as the world’s largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers.”

Mr. Clinton defended Mrs. Clinton’s Wal-Mart seat, telling ABC News that they “lived in a state that had a very weak labor movement She knew there was no way to change that, not with it headquartered in Arkansas.”

In his various stump speeches, Mr. Sanders often uses Wal-Mart, and the Walton family, as a prime example of the billionaire class, those who have rigged the federal government to their own financial benefit, while offering little to nothing to the working class.

• Kelly Riddell can be reached at kriddell@washingtontimes.com.

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