RAMPING UP. Wal-Mart gave a total of $326,875 in the 2000 election cycle, $431,017 in 2002, and $857,179 in 2004, according to research by The Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization based in Helena, Mont. For the 2006 election cycle, the company has given $644,655 so far and seems to be on track to hit a record for political contributions.
"They've gone from zero to warp speed in political giving all across the board," says Bruce Freed, co-director of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit group that tracks corporate political spending. The totals include only direct contributions to politicians and political parties. Adding in money for ballot initiatives and other local issues brings the total of Wal-Mart state giving so far this cycle to $1.25 million.