Topics: Barack Obama

Costco backs Obama, Obama touts Costco

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Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,Barack Obama,2012 Elections,Analysis

If you’re a millionaire corporate bigwig using your wealth to influence elections, and using your company’s clout to influence legislation, President Obama might give you a tongue-lashing. Unless you’re a fundraiser and donor for the Obama Victory Fund, and your company’s lobbying agenda coincides with the White House’s — then Obama will give you a shout-out in a major economic address.

In his nationally televised speech Wednesday, Obama sang the praises of retail giant Costco, whose founder Jim Sinegal gave Obama the maximum contribution in two elections and hosted fundraisers for his reelection. Costco has also lobbied for many of Obama’s legislative priorities, including higher minimum wage, Obamacare, and price controls on financial processing fees.

Given the company’s politics and tendency to seek profit through big government, Costco stands out as a model of Obamanomics. The money trail and the free advertising also give off a whiff of cronyism.

Sinegal contributed the maximum $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund last year and also held a $35,800-a-plate fundraiser for Obama. In the 2008 election, Sinegal gave $43,500 to the DNC (here and here), which is, in effect, a contribution to Obama. On top of that, the Costco founder gave the maximum $2,300 to Obama’s campaign. So that’s more than $80,000 personally to Obama. Add in $100,000 to Obama’s SuperPAC, Priorities USA, plus the $2 million the July 2012 fundraiser reportedly brought Obama, and you’ve got a healthy amount of support.

Obama’s gotten even more, though, from Sinegal and his company.

Sinegal lobbied for Obamacare in 2009. His company has supported a higher minimum wage. Both of these regulations impose proportionally greater costs on the company’s smaller competitors — and almost every competitor is smaller, because Costco is the nation’s No. 2 retailer behind only Wal-Mart. Sinegal also spoke in Obama’s favor at the 2012 convention.

Costco’s founder did all these favors for Obama over five years, and on Wednesday, Obama returned the favor:

We’ll need our businesses, the best in the world, to pressure Congress to invest in our future, and set an example by providing decent wages and salaries to their own employees.  And I’ll highlight the ones that do just that – companies like Costco, which pays good wages and offers good benefits; or the Container Store, which prides itself on training its workers and on employee satisfaction – because these companies prove that this isn’t just good for their business, it’s good for America.

To recap: Raise $2 million for him, give his campaigns $180,000, lobby for his legislation, and the President will advertise for your store.

Sinegal in 2012 tried to justify Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That,” comments, writing: “thanks to a strong nationwide transportation system and internal infrastructure, we’ve opened warehouses across the country and around the world.”

But, as I wrote at the time, “You Didn’t Build That,” wasn’t just about highways and bridges. Obama was arguing for a far more interventionist economic policy. And Costco eats that sort of thing up.

If Costco has a store, in other words, there’s a decent chance that you, the taxpayer, did build that. First, consider the company’s aggressive use of eminent domain — government theft of land — to acquire property. Second, Costco leans heavily on local corporate welfare for new stores.

From my own neighborhood, for instance:

County Executive Ike Leggett has agreed to contribute $4 million from the Economic Development Fund, over two years, to aid in the construction of the mall’s 232,000-square-foot addition, which will include 148,000 square feet for Costco on the second level.

This is Obamanomics — if you’re cozy with government, your business gets plenty of help.

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