Walmart (NYSE:WMT) has a new head lobbyist. On Wednesday, the world's largest retailer named Dan Bartlett executive VP of corporate affairs, the Wall Street Journal reported. Bartlett will start work with Walmart in late June.
Bartlett, who was the press spokesman for President George W. Bush from 2002 to 2005, has spent the last five years at the lobbying arm of public-relations firm Hill & Knowlton, which has deep connections in Washington, D.C., especially with Republicans.
That telegraphs what Walmart wants Bartlett to do. The chain has historically been aligned with the GOP, but some of Walmart's most crucial legislative initiatives right now aren't very palatable to some Republicans. That includes the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would let states require online retailers to collect sales taxes. That bill, which Walmart dearly wants, was jockeyed through the U.S. Senate by Democrats, but will have a much harder time in the House, which is dominated by anti-tax Republicans.
Walmart is also spearheading MCX, an alternative to Visa (NYSE:V) and MasterCard (NYSE:MA) that could potentially get the retailer some interchange relief. But that's pushing into what some critics are calling "shadow banking," and negotiating the government financial regulatory structure is crucial, especially at a time when problems at conventional banks have made regulators more likely to tighten screws, not allow more experimentation.
Then there's the ongoing fight over the settlement of a class-action lawsuit over interchange—one in which, if Walmart loses at the court level, the chain will almost certainly head to Capitol Hill for relief.
All of that comes on top of Walmart's ongoing public-relations and political problems involving treatment of store associates in the U.S., bribery allegations in Mexico and factory safety in Bangladesh. With all that on his plate—plus responsibility for external communications, sustainability and the Walmart Foundation—Bartlett has his work cut out for him.
- See this Wall Street Journal story
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