COLUMBUS - Leslie Wexner opened a small women's clothing shop in 1963 in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington. He called it Leslie's Limited - later shortened to The Limited - because it sold only women's sportswear separates.
Over the past four decades, Mr. Wexner and his top executives have built what is now Limited Brands. With annual revenue of $9.4 billion and 3,775 stores, it is an apparel giant that spawned two icons of retailing - Victoria's Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch.
In 1996, Mr. Wexner lured Charles Turlinski away from Federated Direct, where he was the chief executive officer. After Mr. Turlinski worked for two Limited Brands divisions, Lerner New York, and Express, Mr. Wexner promoted him in 2003 to chief executive officer of Limited Stores.
But starting in 2003, Mr. Turlinski began to pick candidates, carrying Limited Brands' flag in the high-profile world of presidential politics.
For the 2004 election, Mr. Turlinski became a "Pioneer" for raising at least $100,000 for President Bush's re-election campaign.
Mr. Turlinski didn't respond to requests for an interview. A Limited Brands spokesman didn't return several phone messages seeking comment.
Mr. Turlinski's wife, Donna, said he had a reason for becoming a Pioneer, but she wouldn't divulge it.
She said her husband didn't raise funds for Mr. Bush at the request of Mr. Wexner. In fact, Mr. Turlinski recently hosted a fund-raiser for Democratic U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is weighing a presidential bid in 2008, Mrs. Turlinski said.
Since 1989, Mr. Wexner, his wife, Abigail, the company's political action committee, and company employees have made $3.27 million in state and federal campaign contributions.
Mr. Wexner's Limited Brands also has spent millions of dollars to lobby the federal government.
The combination of political contributions and Capitol Hill lobbying - when combined with similar efforts by other apparel giants such as the Gap - has paid off in a bipartisan commitment to "free-trade" agreements, said Lloyd Wood, a spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents U.S. textile and apparel makers.
Mr. Wood said President Bush has continued the approach of President Bill Clinton's administration.
Mr. Wexner is considered among the trailblazers in "sourcing" garments from factories in Asia.
The World Trade Organization has estimated that China will capture 50 percent of the world market for textiles and apparel in 2007, compared to 17 percent in 2003. The U.S. apparel industry since the early 1990s has lost about 630,000 jobs, which is roughly two-thirds of its work force.
The Limited's political contributions and lobbying have benefited it in other ways, said Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, an anti-sweatshop and anti-globalization activist group that's based in New York City.
In January, 1999, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Workers, along with anti-sweatshop activists, sued 18 companies, including The Limited, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap, J. Crew, and Tommy Hilfiger, and 22 factories on the island of Saipan, which is part of a U.S. commonwealth called the Northern Mariana Islands. Chinese and South Korean interests own most of the factories.
The federal class-action lawsuit alleged that immigrant garment workers, mostly women, from China and other Asian countries often were forced to work long hours without any days off in "unsafe, unclean conditions that violate U.S. labor laws," required to sign "shadow contracts" waiving their basic human rights, and also to pay recruitment fees as high as $7,000 to come to the islands.
The Limited, Abercrombie & Fitch, and other defendants including The Gap tried to be dismissed from the suit, arguing they were only "customers" of the garment factories on Saipan.
In September, 2002, The Limited and Abercrombie & Fitch settled claims against them in the class-action lawsuit. The settlement called for a "code of conduct" in how workers are treated and "independent" monitoring of Saipan factories.
Under the settlement, The Limited, Abercrombie & Fitch, and other defendants paid $20 million into a fund to pay for the monitoring program and to compensate more than 30,000 garment workers from China, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Bangladesh, and other low-wage nations.
"The apparel companies, especially the ones the size of The Limited, have extraordinary power under the Bush Administration to influence trade policy, to influence the weakening of workers' rights protections in trade agreements, and I find it very scary," Mr. Kernaghan said.
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