updated 5/26/2006 2:44:02 PM ET 2006-05-26T18:44:02

Union-backed critics accused Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Friday of being one of the undisclosed donors behind a new anti-union advertising campaign launched by a Washington, D.C., lobbyist with past ties to two of Wal-Mart’s top public relations and lobbying figures.

The world’s largest retailer denied providing any funds for the Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit group launched by lobbyist Richard Berman in February that has run television and full-page newspaper ads accusing unions of malfeasance, including discriminating against minorities and bankrupting companies.

Berman has declined to say who has donated over $3 million this year for the ads and a Web site, www.unionfacts.com. Berman said Friday supporters include corporations, trade organizations, foundations and individuals but that he will not name them for fear of possible union retaliation.

WakeUpWalMart.com, a campaign group funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers to pressure Wal-Mart, said years of professional ties between Berman and two key figures in Wal-Mart’s drive to defend its reputation from union attacks suggest the retailer is one of those backers.

“It’s pretty obvious, given these relationships, that Wal-Mart is funding the center either directly or indirectly,” WakeUpWalMart.com spokesman Chris Kofinis said.

Bob McAdam, vice president of corporate affairs at Wal-Mart, and Lee Culpepper, Wal-Mart’s top lobbyist in Washington, D.C., each worked with Berman in various capacities during their time as lobbyists for the restaurant and tobacco industries in the 1990s.

McAdam and Berman acknowledge they’ve known each other and Culpepper for years but dismissed the accusation that their association meant Wal-Mart is backing the Center for Union Facts.

“We have not contributed to the Center for Union Facts,” McAdam said. He added Wal-Mart has not funded the group either directly or by passing money through any other group.

WakeUpWalMart.com noted that McAdam was quoted in a Detroit Free Press story Wednesday as saying Wal-Mart exchanges union information with Berman. McAdam told The Associated Press that comment referred to long-standing contacts between the two men.

“It is not a recent relationship. We’ve talked back and forth, he’s told us stuff he’s heard about union activity and we share stuff we’ve heard about union activity. It’s a conversation,” McAdam said.

“The bottom line is, I know Rick Berman and I’ve talked with him. But that is the extent of my relationship with that organization,” McAdam said.

Berman said his work as a lobbyist means he has developed a lot of connections over 30 years, building a Rolodex of about 500 names that includes people he has worked with in government and a range of industries.

“You can come up with any sort of connections you want, but that’s more correlation than causation,” Berman said.

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