Coup for retail lobby as Wal-Mart joins National Retail Federation

The world’s biggest retailer has joined one of Washington’s more prominent retail trade associations.

Wal-Mart is now a member of the National Retail Federation (NRF), according to representatives for the Bentonville, Ark., company and the business group. The addition of Wal-Mart to NRF’s ranks will bring some serious clout to the trade association, which has sought to raise its profile in Washington.

Brooke Buchanan, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the retailer decided to join NRF this year.

“Wal-Mart is a member of a number of organizations and serves in many different capacities. We review our memberships annually, and this year we are pleased to now be a member of the National Retail Federation,” Buchanan said.

NRF has looked to boost its lobbying in recent years as well as polish up the retail industry’s image. That may have made membership in the business group more attractive to Wal-Mart.

The NRF spent more than $3.5 million on lobbying for 2012, a jump from the more than $3.2 million the trade group spent in 2011, according to lobbying disclosure records.

Stephen Schatz, a NRF spokesman, confirmed that Wal-Mart had joined the trade group.

“Wal-Mart has joined the National Retail Federation,” Schatz said. “We are pleased to have them as a partner with the over 10,000 other NRF members who are advocating on behalf of an industry sector that creates good jobs, gives back to the communities they serve, leads in digital innovation and drives our national economy.”

The retail industry has had some bruising fights during the last few years.

Retailers battled against legislation that would have made union organizing easier and continue to go after the National Labor Relations Board. They faced off with banks over reducing interchange fees for debit cards. And they will push this year for federal legislation that would give states greater freedom to collect sales taxes on online purchases.

It is a crowded market in Washington for trade groups representing retailers. There also is the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). Wal-Mart is listed as a member of RILA, according to the trade group’s website.

NRF and RILA planned to merge at one point in 2009 but then the talks were called off a few months later that year.

Some observers believe the move by Wal-Mart could help create better unity between the various retailers’ trade groups as they storm Capitol Hill to lobby for industry priorities.

“They [NRF] have been not as aggressive as other retail groups in some of the fights and Wal-Mart may be looking to make sure that they are on the same page,” said one retail lobbyist.