Reps. Want To Know If Wal-Mart Worked To Weaken Bribery Law

The Democratic lawmakers who earlier this week asked for a meeting with Wal-Mart officials who can answer questions about the company’s Mexican bribery scandal are now interested in the retailer’s connection to lobbying efforts to amend the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the U.S. law that makes it illegal to bribe foreign officials. The Justice Department is reportedly investigating Wal-Mart for possible FCPA violations.In letters to the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Chairman of the Board of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) said they are seeking information about Wal-Mart officials’ role in organizations pushing for changes to the FCPA.

“We are concerned about the role that Wal-Mart officials may have played in the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform,” the lawmakers said in their letter to Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue, referring to the arm of the organization that has worked on FCPA issues. “It would appear to be a conflict of interest for Wal-Mart officials to advise on ways to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act at a time when the leadership of the company was apparently aware of corporate conduct that may have violated the law.”

A similar letter was sent to Retail Industry Leaders Association Chairman Gregg Steinhafel.

The letters come in response to a Washington Post article spotlighting the presence of Wal-Mart officials in groups that have been pushing for changes to the FCPA. No one is saying Wal-Mart was involved in the efforts because of its now-revealed problems in Mexico, but, as the lawmaker’s letters show, the issue is raising eyebrows.

The Post reported that Wal-Mart was one of more than 20 companies represented on the Institute for Legal Reform board, along with General Electric, ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical. The ILR has advocated for, among other things, limiting a company’s liabilities for the actions of a subsidiary, and a clearer definition of who qualifies as a “foreign official.” From 2003 to 2010, Thomas Hyde, then Wal-Mart’s corporate secretary and top ethics officer, was on the ILR’s 40-member board. Hyde was one of the Wal-Mart executives who first received reports of bribes in Mexico in 2005. (The Huffington Post points out that Walmart general counsel Jeff Gearhart was also listed as an ILR board member in recent filings.)

Meanwhile, Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., serves on the board of directors of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, another of the groups involved in pushing to amend the FCPA, according to the Post.

The debate over the FCPA has in part been fueled by increased federal enforcement over the last few years.

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