WASHINGTON — The increasing likelihood of a pro-labor agenda in the next Congress is helping shape the industry's political contributions this election cycle.
“Right now there is a tremendous amount of concern in the industry as well as in the entire business community about having enough votes to sustain filibusters in the Senate in the next Congress on key issues that are going to come up from what I would call the liberal labor agenda,” said John J. Motley III, senior vice president, government and public affairs, Food Marketing Institute, in an interview with SN last week.
With Republicans expected to lose some Senate seats in the 35 races up for grabs in the upcoming elections, Motley said the industry is focusing on salvaging enough GOP presence in the Senate to thwart legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize. Legislation introduced this year — known as the “Employee Free Choice Act” — has been strongly supported by Democrats, and Motley said the bill could potentially get through a more heavily Democratic Senate.
FMI hopes to have the 41 Senate votes required to prevent cloture on a filibuster, and is focusing its support on key Republican races to meet that goal, he said.
“Since there is going to be a significant majority in the House on the Democratic side, and since we could have a Democratic president who is inclined to sign those pieces of legislation, the only backstop we might have is to be able to maintain 41 votes against the worst pieces of legislation to prevent them from being passed in the Senate and being passed on to the president for his signature,” Motley explained.
Other issues, including taxes, health care and energy, also are important to the industry this year, as are other labor-friendly initiatives.
However, despite its support for Republicans to bolster what Motley described as business-friendly causes, FMI this year also has been giving more than it usually does to Democratic candidates, he said, in part because of their support for causes like legislation regulating credit card interchange fees and for combating organized crime.
According to Federal Election Commission records, FMI's Political Action Committee, called FoodPAC, has given $1,000 to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., which Motley said was because of his stance on both of those issues, and $2,500 to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who has sided with Republicans on some key issues, particularly taxes. He's also taken the industry's side on Medicare and Medicaid legislation related to pharmacy reimbursement, Motley said.
Overall, however, the focus has been on key states where Republican Senate seats seem precarious — in particular New Hampshire, Maine, Oregon, Colorado, North Carolina and Mississippi. Louisiana, where Democrat Mary Landrieu is seeking to hold her seat against Republican challenger John Kennedy, could be another key state, he said. Republican seats in Virginia, New Mexico and Alaska are now “hopeless causes,” Motley said.
Republican losses in those three states would reduce the number of Republican Senators to 46, so the loss of another six seats would make it difficult to stop bills that have the full support of all the Democrats and Independents in the Senate. According to Motley, many of the Democrats in Congress have long been funded by organized labor and are unlikely to vote against labor-friendly initiatives like the Employee Free Choice Act.
Other labor-friendly legislation that could be opposed by the industry could include proposals to expand the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation concerning paid medical leave and paid sick days, and so-called Ledbetter legislation that would increase the length of time that employees have to file discrimination lawsuits.
In addition, Motley said the industry supports keeping in place the tax cuts implemented under the Bush administration because of the large number of supermarket operators who are taxed at the individual rate rather than as corporations. Many Democrats, including presumed presidential nominee Barack Obama, have spoken out against those cuts.
Motley said he's seen an increasing number of supermarket chains set up their own PACs in recent years, with the most recent being Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla.
The Publix Super Markets Associates PAC has given $24,000 in political contributions so far this year, according to FEC records, mostly to local House candidates in the Southeast, and fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
“Like many others in our industry and in the business community, we have formed a PAC that focuses on the candidates and issues that impact our business,” Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for Publix, told SN.
Publix employees overall have made $53,402 in political contributions this year, including contributions to the Publix PAC, according to FEC records listing individual political contributions. Publix's employee contributions far outweigh those of the large national chains — Kroger Co. employees are listed as having given $10,186; Supervalu's as $17,351; and Safeway's as having given $23,567. All three companies also have their own PACs.
“How a company gives its contribution is entirely up to the way it wants to approach the game of politics,” Motley said. “Most companies want to be absolutely bipartisan in the way they want to proceed, but they also want to give heavily in the areas where they operate in to develop working relationships with the politicians who represent those areas. And, in some cases where the industry has champions, they may go outside of those areas.”
Many of the industry's company-sponsored PACs funnel part of their contributions through the FMI PAC and other PACs, and FMI also helps its members decide how to allocate their funds. Most companies have committees that decide how the funds will be spent, Motley said.