Wal-Mart Responds to Political Attacks

Wal-Mart has sent letters to employees and Democratic politicians vigorously defending itself after campaign-style events organized in Iowa this week included potential presidential candidates criticizing the company.

Wake Up Wal-Mart, a union-supported group that has criticized he retailer, organized a bus tour for the purpose of pressuring the company into providing higher wages and better health care to its 1.3 million U.S. employees. As the bus makes stops across the country, the group has organized a series of events that often feature prominent politicians speaking out about Wal-Mart's wage and business practices.

In response, the nation's largest retailer sent a series of letters this week to both its employees and the politicians shooting lobs against the company, defending itself against the attacks.

"We believe it's wrong for these political candidates to attack Wal-Mart," the company said in a letter delivered Tuesday to the company's nearly 18,000 Iowa employees and released to the media.

"We would never suggest to you how to vote, but we have an obligation to tell you when politicians are saying something about your company that isn't true," the letter said.

In letters to potential Democratic presidential candidates and party leaders, Wal-Mart invited them to meet with the company personally -- and privately -- and to tour one of its stores.

"We don't want this to be about politics," the company said in letters to Iowa's Democratic Gov.Tom Vilsack and Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind.

"We hope that you will keep an open mind about our company and learn about the positive impact we have on the working families of America," the letters said.

The bus tour, called "2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America Tour," started in New York City on Aug. 1 and is scheduled to travel to 19 states and 35 cities before coming to an end in Seattle on Labor Day.

Chris Kofinis, a spokesman for the group, said the Democratic leaders who speak at the events are calling on Wal-Mart to "change for the better." He criticized the company for sending the letters to the politicians.

"It's an unprecedented and outrageous thing to attack Democratic leaders who are standing up and calling on Wal-Mart to change into a responsible corporation," Kofinis said.

Bob McAdam, Wal-Mart's vice president of corporate communications said in a statement, "The paid critics and the politicians who join them at these publicity stops are attacking the wrong company and should stop telling working families where to shop and work."

"We think elected officials should spend their time on real solutions to real challenges. That's why we hope they are open to learning the facts about our company and what we are doing to make the lives of working families even better," McAdam said.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company said it has created 240,000 jobs nationwide in the last three years at an average hourly wage of $10.11. The company stated that it offers health care coverage to all employees, including part-time workers.

Wal-Mart also said it would send "fact check" letters to 47,000 employees in "key states," including New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada -- states expected to be crucial battlegrounds in the 2008 presidential primary season.