The New York Times tries to make a story out of nonstory: free-market groups that quite naturally defend the largest, most successful business in the U.S., Wal-Mart, from government regulation, get a tiny fraction of their funding from the Walton Family Foundation (not even from Wal-Mart itself). At least from what can be discerned from the article, none of this money is earmarked for Wal-Mart related research, and some of it is specifically earmarked for causes, like education reform, that have nothing to do with Wal-Mart.
The story does have a classic line. After spending almost the entire article raising suspicions of whether the free market groups are being unduly influenced by Walton family money, and discussing whether they should disclose the contributions in their publications, the article offhandedly mentions that labor unions give prodigious funding to anti-Wal-Mart organizations. Is this an "astroturf problem," as the article tries to avoid implying, or at least something that raises at least as many issues as the Walton Family Foundation funding the likes of AEI?
In response, Chris Kofinis, communications director for WakeUpWalmart.com, an arm of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union that gives money to liberal research groups, said: "While we openly support the mission of economic justice, Wal-Mart and the Waltons put on a smiley face, hide the truth, all while supporting right-wing causes who are paid to defend Wal-Mart's exploitative practices."
UPDATE: In the highly unlikely event the Walton family thinks it's buying the Heritage Foundation's allegiance to Wal-Mart for less than $5K a year, it's obviously mistaken. Gues the Times' reporter was too lazy to bother checking whether the think tanks he cites as being potentially subject to Wal-Mart's influence have been cheerleaders for Wal-Mart when the companies' policies conflict with the think tanks' free market ideology, which would be the real test of influence-buying.
FURTHER UPDATE: And here's AEI's (and one of my favorite blogs, Overlawyered.com's) Ted Frank criticizing Wal-Mart in yesterday's Washington Post, surely not something that could have conceivably escaped the Times's attention! Looks more and more like the Times published an anti-Wal-Mart press release as a "news" story.