Monday, March 13, 2006

Hillary and the Wal-Mart Dilemma

"That was a long time ago..." - Hillary Clinton on Wal-Mart

NEW YORK -- With retail giant Wal-Mart under fire to improve its labor and health care policies, one Democrat with deep ties to the company -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- has started feeling her share of the political heat.

Mrs. Clinton served on Wal-Mart's board of directors for six years when her husband was governor of Arkansas. The Rose Law Firm, where she was a partner, handled many of the Arkansas-based company's legal affairs. She had kind words for Wal-Mart as recently as 2004, when she told an audience at the convention of the National Retail Federation that her time on the board "was a great experience in every respect."

But in recent months, as the company has become a target for Democratic activists, she has largely steered clear of any mention of Wal-Mart. Late last year, Mrs. Clinton's re-election campaign returned a $5,000 contribution from Wal-Mart, citing "serious differences with current company practices." As Mrs. Clinton sheds her Arkansas past and considers a 2008 presidential run, the Wal-Mart issue presents a dilemma: how to reconcile the political demands she faces today with her history at a company on which many American consumers depend but many Democratic activists revile.

"The interesting question is not just Hillary Clinton's history at Wal-Mart, but why it's delicate for her to talk about Wal-Mart," said Charles Fishman, author of "The Wal-Mart Effect," a book about the company's impact on the national economy. "Plenty of Democrats denounce Wal-Mart, but there are also plenty of people who need it, love it and rely on it."

[Full Story...]