Did Obama Buy Trouble Shopping for a Budget Chief at Walmart?

Walmart Foundation president Sylvia Matthews BurwellPresident Obama announced Monday morning that he had nominated Walmart Foundation president Sylvia Matthews Burwell to be his new director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Burwell, who previously headed the Global Development Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, came to the Walmart (WMT) Foundation in 2011. As head of the retailer's charity arm, Burwell was in charge of directing targeted giving campaigns to a wide range of charities and nonprofits.

Walmart and Obama seem like an unlikely pairing, given that the company isn't exactly a favorite of the left. But as we've previously reported, Walmart has teamed up with the first lady by supporting two of her biggest initiatives: hiring veterans and encouraging healthy eating. While we've suggested that the relationship with Michelle Obama was more about public relations than politics, the company is now poised to take that relationship to the next level by getting an executive into the president's cabinet.

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That wouldn't be much of an issue if Burwell's job had been simply using Walmart's money to give back to the community, but The Nation has an in-depth look at how this "targeted giving" often coincided with the company's larger goals. For instance, in 2011 the Foundation gave a $200,000 grant to the NAACP; the organization's New York State chapter now says it supports Walmart stores coming to New York City. (A spokesperson for the group denied that the donation played a part in its support of Walmart's bid to build stores in the city.)

The story also observes that the Walmart Foundation regularly gave money to communities where the company has a presence or was planning to expand, including a few where the retailer was embroiled in political fights over expansion and zoning issues. And it also links those charitable endeavors to its larger efforts to influence "elected officials" in key markets.

If Burwell is confirmed by the Senate, she'll have access to the biggest elected official of them all.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

Photo Credit: Win McNamee, Getty Images
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