SAN FRANCISCO — Wal-Mart and its founding Walton family have emerged as big backers of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, giving about $1 million in the past year to his favored causes as he vetoed legislation aimed at the company.
One union-backed bill, which Schwarzenegger vetoed early in October, would
have forced the state to disclose names of companies whose workers get government health services meant for poor residents.
A second bill, vetoed last year, would have stopped employers from locking workers inside workplaces — a policy Wal-Mart has when employees stock shelves and clean floors after closing hours.
The bills reflect issues creating a public relations nightmare for the USA’s biggest private employer, with 1.3million workers, as it expands in California, the USA’s biggest market. Critics including Wake-Up Wal-Mart accuse it of endangering workers by locking them in stores, and of reducing its health care costs at taxpayer expense.
“Tens of thousands of Wal-Mart employees are on taxpayer-funded health care,” says Chris Kofinis of union-led Wake-Up Wal-Mart.
The Wal-Mart and Walton political gifts appear in new public campaign finance documents. They show that the same day Schwarzenegger vetoed the health care disclosure bill — Oct. 7 — his California Recovery Team logged a $250,000 gift from Christy Walton. She is the widow of John Walton, a Wal-Mart director who died four months ago. In the next three weeks, the Schwarzenegger-backed Proposition 77 campaign got $250,000 from Wal-Mart Chairman Rob Walton and $100,000 from Wal-Mart. Those gifts and others followed $200,000 to the Recovery Team last year from John Walton about two weeks after Schwarzenegger vetoed the lock-in bill.
Proposition 77, on the Nov. 8 ballot, would give authority to redraw congressional and legislative districts to three retired judges, shifting that power from the Democrat-controlled General Assembly and strengthening the Republican governor’s hand.
Schwarzenegger’s office and a Walton family spokesman said there was no connection between his vetoes and the Wal-Mart gifts. “Absolutely not,”
Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson says.
Wal-Mart and the Waltons now rank No.15 on its list of the 100 biggest donors to Schwarzenegger-controlled campaign committees, says the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, a non-partisan government watchdog group.
Wal-Mart opposed the health disclosure bill, which would have affected firms with 25 or more workers, because it did not require enough detailed information to be useful public policy, said Barry Brokaw, a lobbyist for the company. Wal-Mart took no position on the worker lock-in bill, he said.
Employees in some stores are locked inside overnight for their safety against intruders, spokeswoman Mona Williams says, but there is always someone with a key to let them out if they choose to leave.