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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Who’s Really Running This Country?
Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The other day I saw an ad that disturbed me a bit. The ad was for Wal-Mart. It showed a family getting into an SUV for what was going to be their family vacation. Because of high gas prices all they could afford to do was back out of their driveway and go across the street. The moral, if you can label it as such, was that if people bought everything they needed at Wal-Mart high gas prices wouldn’t be a problem and families could take long road trips again. I found this ad to be odd for one very big reason; it didn’t imply high gas prices were a bad thing. In car ads the car company tries to commiserate with the consumer by showing them they can buy a car that uses less gas. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, was saying use the same amount of gas you’re already using, just use it for a vacation rather than for going all around town running errands. This got me thinking, what does Wal-Mart stand to gain by people using oil?

Research is a beautiful, and oftentimes scary, thing. Before I start with my findings I would like to make something completely clear, I am not a Republican, I am not a Democrat, I am an independent with Libertarian leanings. That being said, conspiracy theorists can have a lot of fun with my findings, the biggest one being that both the oil companies and Wal-Mart have, shall we say, friends in common in Washington, D.C..

According to publicintegrity.org, since 1998 oil and natural gas companies, interest groups, their employees and political action committees have donated $49,714,256 to Republican campaigns. The dollar amount represents 73.24% of all their campaign donations, so we know whose side they’re on. In 2004 Wal-Mart joined those oil companies becoming number two among top campaign givers in the 2004 federal elections (behind only Goldman Sachs) with Republicans receiving about 85% of the company's contributions.

I sat on those numbers for a few minutes and thought about the implications. So they’re both big Republican supporters, but can anything be concluded from this? Not yet, but they sure are interesting bedfellows and the new Wal-Mart ad does, in a roundabout way, support the current gas price landscape (remember, it’s not “don’t drive,” it’s “drive to us for all your needs so you can take road trips.”). Could such an alliance hurt the country? We all know the ills of both Wal-Mart and the oil companies, but is the idea that they can affect something as big as our government too far fetched? Not necessarily.

In a 2006 vote regarding the raising of the minimum wage, something Wal-Mart publicly said they were in favor of, 42 of the 46 Senators who voted against raising the minimum wage (though voted to raise their own bloated pay) had received campaign contributions from Wal-Mart. In addition to this according to The Nation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, an industry group of which Wal-Mart is the most powerful member, aggressively lobbied to defeat the minimum wage increase. A classic example of a two faced company, which is nothing new, but who knew Wal-Mart, a discount store, could be so powerful in Washington?

Wal-Mart now has the power to keep their employees’ wages low, and oil companies give so much that the government doesn’t do anything when gas prices double over the course of a year. Now we have Wal-Mart telling us that if we shop solely at their stores gas prices won’t be an issue. Somewhere there’s a mastermind behind all this smiling, and although I’m not sure what he’s hoping to accomplish by this, it can’t be good.

Remember when a democracy meant power to the people? Has our government altered it so much that it’s now power to the corporations that give the most? We don’t have another presidential election until 2008, but it’s time to start paying closer attention to where these candidates are getting their money because it’s not the man who’s running for President, or Senator who will be running the country, it’s the companies who are funding their campaigns who will really be up in office. With that in mind here’s an interesting idea, instead of having the candidates’ busses just be normal busses wrapped with campaign logos have them done up like Nascar cars (you want those Nascar dads, right?). Wrap each bus with the logos of the companies that are giving the most to each individual’s campaign. It will give us a much better idea of where our votes are really going.

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