On December 4, 2003, President George Bush was slated to make a speech on the economy at the Home Depot store in the small town of Halethopre, Maryland. The site for this speech was not as random as it might appear, according to Public Citizen, the public interest research group founded by Ralph Nader. Public Citizen explains that the Bush visit was “another way to reward the nation’s second-largest retailer for its generosity to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party.” Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that Home Depot employees and their families have given $1.5 million to the GOP since 1999. No single candidate has been painted with more Home Depot money than George Bush. The total includes $907,950 in “soft money” donations to the Republican National Committee before such giving was outlawed by Congress. This year, Home Depot, its associates and the company’s political action committee have contributed $31,000 to the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Public Citizen charges that the Bush visit to Home Depot is a way for the President “to turn policy pronouncements into free PR for his most generous political supporters.” The President has found other ways to return the favors as well, the group says. In the recent massive energy bill which did not pass Congress, is a measure that would lift a tariff on Chinese-made ceiling fans sold by Home Depot. Lifting of that one tariff would cost the U.S. Treasury $48 million over five years. Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli — who is made the trip up from Atlanta to appear alongside Bush at the Home Depot stop — is hoping the White House will do some more lobbying to pass the energy bill. Nardelli has made at least three trips to the White House during the Bush administration. The President has appointed Nardelli to his Council on Service and Civic Participation. Public Citizen says Home Depot has other close ties to the Bush White House, including Francis Blake, Home Depot’s Executive Vice President, who was formerly Bush’s deputy energy secretary, but left to work for Home Depot. The wife of one of Home Depot’s top in-house lobbyists was a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Although Federal disclosure forms show Home Depot spending only $20,000 on lobbying during the first six months of 2003 on their ceiling fan tarriffs, Public Citizen says the home improvement retailer has been working behind the scenes. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2001 that Home Depot secretly gave $1 million to the Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to buy ads aimed at electing business-friendly judges. Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoed last May energy-efficiency legislation passed by wide margins in both houses of the state legislature after intense lobbying by Home Depot. The Natural Resources Defense Council calculated that the bill could save consumers $600 million in energy costs by 2020. But Home Depot objected to “mandatory standards” governing ceiling fans, arguing that government-subsidized “Energy Star” fans should not be the only ones approved for sale. Ironically, these are the same fans for which Home Depot is seeking tariff relief.
If you needed one more reason to stay away from Home Depot, try out this Bush Connection for size. Home Depot feels right at home in the White House. It was nice of the President to give Home Depot further financial incentives for importing cheap Chinese goods that will displace American jobs, and cost the taxpayers billions in lost revenues. The only way to hammer Home Depot back is to stay out of their stores.