Payoff Time for Wal-Mart’s Goodwill Chips

Facing a bribery scandal that could have serious implications on its reputation, and potential legal ramifications for its leadership, big box retailer Wal-Mart is now cashing in its chips collected from political campaign contributions and its work on behalf of popular causes, charity drives and more, says an article in The New York Times.

In forging both Republican and Democratic allies, supporting childhood nutrition and CSR initiatives like reducing carbon emissions, Wal-Mart hopes it will catch a break—both from the public and from Washington regulators, who have the power to issue sanctions against the company if the accusations of bribery in an effort to establish a retail stronghold in Mexico are proved accurate.

But will all of this goodwill and hard lobbying work pay off? Possibly, says Mike Herman, CEO of Communication Sciences International (and a member of the PR News Advisory Board), although he is unsure if the scandal or Wal-Mart’s previous good deeds and lobbying efforts would have an effect on the man and woman on the street. “Wal-Mart has become so interwoven into the fabric of the U.S.' community life, that it’s kind of like mom and apple pie,” says Herman. “I’m not sure what happens in Mexico even enters into the discussion in those communities.”

Herman also says that even controversial lobbying actions by Wal-Mart, like supporting the strengthening of self-defense laws in shooting incidents—which played a part in the passage of “Stand Your Ground” laws, prominent in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida—may not sway the public or legislators against the company. “A good portion of the U.S. might applaud whatever support Wal-Mart gave to that effort,” says Herman. “I don’t know what impact it will have in Washington, either. If the voters don’t care, neither do their representatives, and I don’t see a lot of phone calls or e-mails to Washington from the hinterlands asking them to 'do something about Wal-Mart.'"

So far, says the Times, politicians from both parties are standing by the company. If damaging facts come out in the bribery scandal, that support—and the worth of Wal-Mart's chips—just might change.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01