Retail group chooses Republican to confront ‘challenges’ on Capitol Hill

The National Retail Federation announced Wednesday that Matt Shay would replace longtime CEO Tracy Mullin as the trade group fights administration priorities like healthcare reform.

Shay, a Republican, joins NRF as president and CEO from the International Franchise Association, another retail group more closely aligned with Republicans than Democrats.

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Shay was the president and CEO of the IFA. He began his career at the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

“Retail is the lifeblood of our economy, and with the challenges we face on Capitol Hill, the stakes have never been higher,” Shay said in a statement.

IFA represents more than 1,300 franchise companies around the world, including a number of retail firms.

The retail federation is a larger group, with an annual budget of $35 million compared to IFA’s $12 million.

IFA spent $600,000 on lobbying in 2009 compared to NRF’s $2 million.

Alisa Harrison, a spokeswoman for the IFA, said Shay convinced the group’s board of directors to increase spending on advocacy efforts, both in Washington and at the grassroots level for an “awareness” campaign that started two years ago.

Harrison said the association would soon hire a search committee to help fill its vacant position.

Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the retail federation, said Shay joins the group at a critical time.

The trade group opposes the administration’s push on healthcare reform. Krugman said that so-called employer mandates on businesses to purchase insurance for their workers would hurt the retail sector and cost jobs.

NRF is also fighting a push by labor unions for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize unions. Supporters have not been able to move the legislation forward, although it remains a priority for some Democrats.

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Although other trade groups have sought to balance their political giving since Democrats took control of Congress, the NRF has maintained a clear preference for Republicans.

So far this cycle, the retail federation has given 67 percent of its political contributions to the GOP, although its political action committee has given only a modest $23,000 so far.

Krugman said the retail group was looking for the “best advocate” and did not hire Shay based on his political affiliation.