WASHINGTON — When it comes to the day-to-day expenses of running a political race, candidates across the country turn to a familiar Arkansas source — Walmart.
U.S. House and Senate candidates spent more than $860,000 over the last four years at Walmart stores for telephones, ink cartridges, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, keys, envelopes, toner and toilet paper among other needs, according to data compiled by the Federal Election Commission.
"It’s close by and the price is right," said Jamie Hicks, a spokeswoman for Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La.
Alexander was the biggest spender among 761 candidates whose campaign aides shopped at Walmart or Sam’s Club between January 2009 and July 2012. His campaign spent $25,378.33 on food and office supplies at Walmart in Jonesboro, La., and Sam’s Club in Monroe.
The spending went both ways. Executives of Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. contributed $2.1 million to federal candidates over the same time frame through the Wal-Mart Stores Political Action Committee, according to FEC. Alexander was not a recipient.
Utilizing expense reports filed by candidates, the FEC has compiled a database of expenditures for the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. The database contained 6,542 records of disbursements to Walmart and Sam’s Club from congressional campaigns.
The transactions ranged from 48 cents that Democrat Rudy Moise spent at a Walmart in Miami on "election expenses" to $6,909.93 that Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., spent at a Sam’s Club on items for a golf fundraiser.
Not surpisingly, a good chunk of the money, at least $280,000, was spent on office supplies. The Walmart Supercenter on Central Avenue in Hot Springs, Ark., was visited at least 50 times in 2010 by election workers for Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott.
Ross dropped $2,806.23 on food, gas and office supplies there, making him the most frequent Walmart shopper among Arkansas congressional campaigns, according to FEC data.
Ross’ campaign also stopped by the Walmart in Hope in November 2009, spending $70.47 on office supplies while also donating $1,000 to "Christmas to Share."
Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, was by far the biggest spender among the 28 Arkansas campaigns that shopped at Walmart over the last four years. The Jonesboro Walmart and Sam’s Club raked in $9,590.69 in sales from his campaign.
"It’s just convenient and it’s an Arkansas company," said Justin Brasell, a consultant to Crawford’s campaign.
Crawford spent most of the money on gas cards that campaign staffers used — mostly at Murphy Oil stations — throughout the district, according to Brasell.
Crawford also spent on office supplies, picking up poster board, plastic ties and staples at Walmart. His aides also bought hard candy in bulk at Sam’s Club to be handed out at parades.
"You can buy five and 10-pound bags," Braswell said.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., purchased 96 bags of "parade candy" at a Sam’s Club in Wichita in May for $896.06. In all, campaigns declared spending at least $31,500 on "parade candy," according to FEC data.
While Wal-Mart is the go-to discount retailer for many, not every campaign shops there.
Ironically, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, has not reported any campaign spending at the retailer headquartered in his district. Sam Walton opened his first discount store in Rogers 50 years ago.
Womack purchased most of his office and campaign supplies from other retailers in Rogers, including Moser, Jordan’s Printing and Ozark Fence. He also spent $119.90 on "contributor appreciation gifts" at Daisy Outdoor Products.
Womack’s campaign did not offer a response as to why it had not shopped at Walmart.
A spokeswoman for Alexander’s campaign in Louisiana said his campaign’s high spending has a lot to do with the fact it produces its own direct mailings.
Pamphlets, brochures and letters that are sent to district voters are made by campaign staff using ink, paper and envelopes purchased at Walmart.
"It is more convenient and easier to do it yourself than outsource," Hicks said. "It saves money in the end."
While all House races were included in the FEC database, the agency only tallied spending by senators who were actually up for re-election during the two-year cycles.
For Arkansas, that meant that Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor was not in the FEC disbursements database for 2010 or 2012. A separate review of his campaign reports show he spent $146.68 was spent at Walmart over the period when his campaign has essentially been idle.
The top 10 Walmart shoppers among congressional campaigns, based on FEC reports from Jan. 2009 through July 2012, were:
—Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La $25,378
—Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas $23,027
—Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga $21,078
—Travis Hankins, R-Ind $14,717
—Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio $14,625
—Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas $11,513
—Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz $10,769
—Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich $10,316
—Rep. Joann Emerson, R-Mo $10,091
—Rep. Stephen Cohen, D-Tenn $10,012
Totals for the Arkansas delegation campaigns over the same period:
—Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro $9,591
—Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott $3,877
—Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock $2,157
—Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark $1,424
—Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark $147
—Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers $0
—Totals for Arkansas congressional candidates in 2012:
—Democrat Ken Aden of Fayetteville, $3,130
—Democrxat Gene Jeffress of Louann, $1,035
—Democrat Herb Rule of Little Rock, $540
—Republican Tom Cotton of Dardanelle $201
—Democrat Scott Ellington of Jonesboro, $0