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Anti-Prop 72 Contribution Reflects Wal-Mart's Stepped-up Commitment to Fighting Opponents

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In the wake of charges that California taxpayers spent $32 million on health care for Wal-Mart employees, the world's largest retailer has contributed $500,000 to a movement to defeat Proposition 72, a state ballot measure that would require employers to offer health insurance to workers and cover 80 percent of the costs.

The chain's money went to Californians Against Government-Run Health Care, a coalition of businesses opposed to the measure.

Proposition 72 would uphold a law passed in 2003 making it mandatory for businesses with 50 to 199 full-time workers to provide them with health insurance by 2007 or pay a fee to a state purchasing pool. Businesses employing 200 or more full-time employees would be required to insure them and their dependents by 2006.

The referendum is supported by the California Medical Association, labor unions, and consumer groups, but is opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, fast-food restaurant chains, and retailers.

Proponents of Proposition 72 maintain that employees were urged by Wal-Mart to go on public assistance, an allegation denied by the retailer.

The charges against Wal-Mart's practices were leveled in a television commercial that claimed Wal-Mart employees were forced to go to public clinics because the company won't give them affordable health insurance.

Wal-Mart, however, maintains that almost two-thirds of its 60,000 eligible, full-time, and hourly workers in the state have enrolled in the Wal-Mart health care plan. Wal-Mart has also dismissed the findings of a University of California, Berkeley Labor Center study the commercial's makers referenced in support of their assertions. Wal-Mart said the report was biased and not based on company-provided statistics.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Cynthia Lin told Progressive Grocer that the company originally tried to stay out of the debate, but, it was "forced to defend [itself] in the light of these false accusations" once the commercial aired.

Lin called the commericial's claims "simply untrue," citing the Wal-Mart's "wide array of affordable health care options."

Lin said that Wal-Mart has made political contributions in California for "a number of years," but it has lately increased the amount it donates in answer to "mounting attacks" by labor union leaders and special interest groups. "We believe we need to take a stand when misinformation is placed in the public domain," noted Lin. "We owe that to our employees and shareholders."

--Bridget Goldschmidt
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