- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s close ties to Wal-Mart have infuriated progressives who see the big-box store as the embodiment of capitalistic evil, but there’s evidence the former first lady has changed since her time on the Wal-Mart board three decades ago, and will push for stronger labor unions, a higher minimum wage and other goals that may sever her cozy relationship with the ubiquitous company.

The former secretary of state’s evolution on issues like the minimum wage — which would adversely affect Wal-Mart and its 1.2 million employees, many of whom earn hourly wages just over the national minimum — came during her Democratic primary fight with Sen. Bernard Sanders. Mr. Sanders routinely bashed Wal-Mart on the campaign trail and often hinted at Mrs. Clinton’s ties to the company, including the fact that she’s received huge campaign donations from the likes of Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.

Even President Obama in the 2008 primary attacked Mrs. Clinton for serving on the notoriously anti-union company’s board of directors from 1986 to 1992, when she was first lady of Arkansas, Wal-Mart’s home state.

“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,” then-Sen. Obama said during a January 2008 debate.

But Mrs. Clinton’s campaign platform now calls for a $12-an-hour national minimum wage, and she has said she’d even sign legislation setting the wage at $15. And while the former secretary of state did little to fight for workers’ rights during her time on the board, she’s since said she firmly believes Wal-Mart employees should be allowed to unionize and collectively bargain.

The former first lady hasn’t been an outspoken critic of the company in the way other Democrats such as Mr. Sanders have, but Wal-Mart foes still believe Mrs. Clinton could become a key ally if she wins the White House in November.

“I believe Hillary Clinton would push that company or any company for a $15 minimum wage. I think she’s likely to do that,” said anti-Wal-Mart activist Al Norman, who’s fought against the company’s expansion for more than 20 years and runs the organization Sprawl Busters.

“I’m not thrilled that Hillary has accepted, in the past, money from Wal-Mart. But there’s a long list of Republicans who could say the same thing,” Mr. Norman continued. “Comparing Hillary today versus where she was in Arkansas on the Wal-Mart board is a totally different time period and different person. Today you’re looking at someone who is much more sensitive, and she’s been sensitized by workers and by public opinion moving in this direction.”

Those issues aside, Mrs. Clinton still is raking in money from Wal-Mart employees and others linked to the company.

Earlier this year, Ms. Walton, who is no longer associated with Wal-Mart in an official capacity, gave more than $300,000 to Mrs. Clinton’s election efforts, leading to criticism from Mr. Sanders and other liberals who used the donation as more proof the Clintons are in bed with corporate America.

The Walton family also has given more than $1 million to the embattled Clinton Foundation.

Neither the Clinton campaign nor Wal-Mart would comment.

Mrs. Clinton also has received more money from Wal-Mart employees than any other candidate. A Washington Times analysis found that Wal-Mart associates have donated 424 times to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, totaling $46,288. Mr. Sanders received more than 1,100 contributions from Wal-Mart workers during the primary, though the donations totaled $40,888, less than what Mrs. Clinton received.

Republican Donald Trump has gotten 39 donations worth $7,725 from Wal-Mart employees.

Mrs. Clinton’s ties to the company go beyond campaign money. Among other things, the Clinton Foundation has interviewed Wal-Mart workers for feature pieces on its website, and the Clinton campaign’s treasurer, Jose Villarreal, earlier this year attended a fundraiser hosted by a top Wal-Mart executive.

Mrs. Clinton’s public positions on issues affecting Wal-Mart — including during her first presidential run in 2008, when she said company workers should be allowed to unionize — seem to have coincided with a change in public opinion, analysts say.

Even the company itself has responded to public demonization by progressive politicians and others, announcing last year it would raise wages for employees.

“I’ve been positively encouraged by the success of some of the activism against them. They seem to have become more susceptible to the court of public opinion over recent years,” said Paula Brantner, a senior adviser at Workplace Fairness, a workers’ rights advocacy group.

Last February Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon announced that the company would raise its own entry-level wage to at least $9 an hour, along with raises for department managers.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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