The effort has intensified in the past two years, drawing on the backing of several large companies and trade groups such as the Retail Industry Leaders Association, where one of Wal-Mart’s top executives serves as a director. It also has involved high-powered lobbyists, including former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey.
The 1977 law, known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, prohibits U.S. companies from offering fees or gifts to foreign officials to advance corporate interests.
There is no evidence that suggests Wal-Mart participated in the Chamber’s efforts because of its problems in Mexico. But even as the company has pledged zero tolerance for corruption around the globe, it has been a party to an effort that, some advocacy groups argue, would eviscerate the Watergate-era anti-corruption statute.
The Justice Department launched an investigation into Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary in December over payments of more than $24 million in bribes to win construction permits there.
A company whistleblower told top corporate officials about the alleged bribes in 2005, The New York Times reported recently. The company launched but then shut down an internal inquiry and then failed to notify the Justice Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission of the allegations as required by law.
Wal-Mart’s corporate secretary and top ethics officer, Thomas D. Hyde, who stepped down from his job at Wal-Mart in 2010, was among the company executives who received initial reports of the bribes in 2005, the Times reported.
Between 2003 and 2010, public records show, Hyde sat on the 40-member board of the Institute of Legal Reform, a division of the U.S. Chamber that has led the way in criticizing parts of the law and talking about the need to change it.
Wal-Mart is one of more than 20 companies represented on the ILR’s board, according to the most recent tax filings from the Chamber group. Other companies include General Electric, ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical.
The retailer did not respond to questions about its participation in the Chamber’s campaign. But a person familiar with the effort, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the board’s deliberations are private, said Wal-Mart was “not particularly active” on the board or in the FCPA lobbying effort.
Wal-Mart issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that it had instituted new protocols to make sure that FCPA investigations are “managed consistently and independently” and that it had created a new role for a global FCPA compliance officer. “We are taking a deep look at our policies and procedures in every country in which we operate,” said company spokesman David Tovar.