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Darden bills itself as the “world’s largest full-service restaurant company,” operating more than 2,138 restaurants, including 822 Olive Gardens, 678 Red Lobsters, 430 Longhorn SteakHouse, and 49 Capital Grills.  Darden employed around 206,000 people, and served more than 400 million meals annually. Total sales in 2012 were $8.00 billion with $8.3 billion projected in 2013.
In 2011, Darden was fined for underpaying its employees and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and record keeping provisions.
Lobbying and Political Contributions
According to Open Secrets, Darden spent $1,280,000 lobbying in 2012, and $1,450,000 in 2011. 
Across all years in the database, Influence Explorer reports that the Darden has spent $3,259,249 on political campaigns, with 66% going to Republicans and 29% going to Democrats.  Top recipients include Bill McCollum (R-Fl), Ric Keller (R-Fl), Connie Mack (R-Fl), and Mitt Romney (R).
The majority of NRA PAC contributions (90%) go to federal entities. Top PAC recipients include: Republican Party of Florida, National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Ties to ALEC and the National Restaurant Association (NRA)
In its lobbying disclosure, the NRA lists Darden as one of its national corporate members, and the NRA gave Darden a diversity award in 2007.  In 2008, Darden CEO Clarence Otis Jr. addressed members at the NRA annual meeting on public affairs.  In 1992, McAdam worked at the Tobacco Institute and attended an ALEC meeting in Colorado Springs.
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.
Opposition to Paid Sick Days
Darden has fought hard against new laws and regulations on paid sick days policies, which would allow workers to stay at home when sick without risking their paycheck or their job. In Florida, Darden helped write and pass a bill that would ban local governments from requiring paid sick days for workers.   Forty percent of all workers do not have paid sick days; existing federal law covers only employees working 25 hours or more at businesses with at least 50 workers, applies only to serious and not routine illnesses, and is unpaid.
CEO Clarence Otis Jr.
Clarence Otis Jr. is Darden’s CEO and Chairman of the Board. Otis has a rags to riches story and was presented with a Horatio Alger award. He grew up in Watts, a poor, predominantly African-American section of Los Angeles that exploded in riots in the sixties and after the Rodney King decision.  However, Otis reportedly made over $5 million in 2007. 
Otis was the valedictorian of his high school and is reported by friends and family to be an incredibly hard worker.  He graduated from Stanford Law and practiced in securities before moving into finance. He joined Darden in 1995, became CEO in 2004, and Chairman of the Board of Directors in 2005.
In the Orlando area, Otis has served on the board of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community. He has been praised by the Executive Director of the Association for helping to raise the profile of the group’s annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival, and has hosted some of their artists at his home. Otis has also been lauded by the CEO of his local development commission for helping to lure the Burnham Institute to his local area for securing funding for the UCF College of Medicine. He has recruited minority business leaders and companies to the Orlando area.
Otis is married to Jacqueline Bradley a former banking executive at Sun Trust and now a stay at home mother. They have three children: Calvin, age 23, and twin daughters Allison and Randall, age 20. The family lives in Isleworth, which is also home to professional athletes, entrepreneurs, and heads of business. Otis and his wife are very active in the arts and have sponsored a fundraiser for the Orlando Philharmonic at their home. They attend services at The Life Center Church in Eatonville.
Together, Otis and Bradley have one of the most extensive private collections of African-American art. With over 100 pieces, the collection includes renowned African-American artists, including Romare Beardon, Sam Gilliam, and William Johnson.
Otis also serves on the board of directors of The Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, VF Corporation, Verizon Communications, Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and the Central Florida YMCA. His is an honorary member of the Mennello Museum of American Art.
Otis is a speaker for Celebrity Talent Promotions, where he is categorized on their website as a business speaker and CEO. In November 2011, he gave a talk at the Emory University business school on corporate social responsibility.
In 2011, he wrote a piece for CNN bemoaning regulations and their impact on jobs. According to Otis:
Regulatory mandates flowing from federal health care reform may be the most visible, but the list also includes measures such as new mandatory paid leave provisions that require us to change the way we accommodate employees who need to take time off when they are ill and ever more unrealistic requirements regarding employee meal and rest breaks that, in California for example, force our employees to take breaks in the middle of serving lunch or dinner.
This reality is the result of the best intentions. Policymakers working in silos at every level are pushing through regulations that on their face seem to address admirable goals -- that are each directed at outcomes that seem desirable.The cumulative effect of these regulations, however, is significant damage to the hard-working Americans who are the intended beneficiaries.
Head of Government Affairs Ties to Tobacco
Robert “Bob” S. McAdam became Senior Vice President, Government and Community Affairs for Darden Restaurants in December 2006. He oversees government and environmental affairs, foundation and community affairs, and media and communications. McAdam’s biography at Darden mentions his work as a campaign manager and grassroots organizer at the state and local level, and notes that he has worked at Walmart where he undertook “critical business initiatives, and improved local government and community relations critical to opening new stores.”
At Walmart in the mid 2000s, McAdam ran the war room, which was created to counter criticism from small business owners and unions. McAdam told the NY Times that Wal-Mart "has to run a campaign.” He added, “It's simply nonsense for us to let some of these attacks go without a response." The war room was a departure from prior policies, as Wal-Mart has traditionally spent little on public relations.
McAdam’s biography at Darden mentions that he was an employee at the public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard, with industry associations, and was formerly a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives.
His biography makes no mention of his work at the Tobacco Institute, where he ran their states activities, meaning his job was to beat back taxes and regulations on tobacco. There are over 400 files in the Legacy Tobacco Documents that list his name.
Questionable Ranking by Fortune
Fortune’s rankings are created by partnering with the Great Place to Work Institute (“Institute”) and by conducting the “most extensive employee survey in corporate America.” Almost 300 firms participate in the survey, called the Trust Index. Two-thirds of each company’s score is based on this survey. The other third comes from responses to the Institute’s Culture Audit© “which includes detailed questions about pay and benefit programs, as well as a series of open-ended questions about hiring practices, methods of internal communication, training, recognition programs, and diversity efforts.”
The Institute is a for-profit consulting firm that was started in the 1980s by two business journalists. According to their website:
Other firms may offer competitive products and services, but Great Place to Work has no competitors. No other organization shares our unique social mission. Others may help companies make marginal improvements in their workplaces, but we endeavor to help organizations transform their cultures. Great workplaces are qualitatively different because of the impact of trust on workplace relationships. We believe in changing the quality of work life for all employees throughout the world. As pioneers of this social movement, we encourage all those who wish to create their own great workplaces. Like us, they wish to build a better society for all employees everywhere.
The Institute’s website does not list prices for services, nor does it identify Darden as a customer. However, Otis was listed as a speaker at the Institute’s conference in Atlanta, GA, in March 2012.
- Clarence Otis Jr., Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
- Ronald Bojalad, Senior Vice President Group Human Resources
- David George President, Olive Garden
- Valerie Insignares, President LongHorn Steakhouse
- Jim Lawrence, Senior Vice President, Chief Supply Chain Officer
- Eugene Lee President, Specialty Restaurant Group
- Kim Lopdrup, Senior Vice President Business Development
- Dave Lothrop, Senior Vice President Corporate Controller
- Robert McAdam, Senior Vice President Government and Community Affairs
- Andrew H. Madsen, President and Chief Operating Officer
- Daisy Ng, Senior Vice President Chief Human Resources Officer
- David Pickens, Senior Vice President Chief Restaurant Operations Officer
- Patti Reilly-White, Senior Vice President Chief Information Officer
- C. Bradford Richmond, Senior Vice President Chief Financial Officer
- Teresa Sebastian Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary
- Will Setliff Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer
- Salli Setta President, Red Lobster
- Suk Singh, Senior Vice President Chief Development Officer
Board of Directors
- Michael W. Barnes, Chief Executive Officer of Signet Jewelers Limited, a specialty retail jeweler.
- Christopher J. (CJ) Fraleigh, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Shearer’s Foods, Inc., a global snack food company.
- David H. Hughes Retired Chairman of the Board of Hughes Supply, Inc., a building supply company.
- William M. Lewis Jr. Managing Director and Co-Chairman of Investment Banking for Lazard Ltd., an investment banking firm.
- Andrew H. Madsen President and Chief Operating Officer,Darden Restaurants, Inc.
- Michael D. Rose Private investor and Chairman of the Board of Midaro Investments, Inc., a privately held investment firm.
- William S. Simon Executive Vice President of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a global retailer, and President and Chief Executive Officer of Walmart U.S.
- Dr. Leonard L. Berry, Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence, Distinguished Professor of Marketing, and M.B. Zale Chair in Retailing and Marketing Leadership, Mays Business School, Texas A&M University.
- Victoria D. Harker Chief Financial Officer of Gannett Co., Inc., an international media and marketing solutions company.
- Charles A. Ledsinger Jr., (Lead Director) Chairman of Realty Investment Company, Inc., a private operating and investment company. Chairman of Sunburst Hospitality Corporation, a private hotel and real estate operator. Retired Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Choice Hotels International, a lodging franchisor.
- Senator Connie Mack III, Partner and senior policy advisor for Liberty Partners Group, a public policy consulting firm. Former U.S. Senator.
- Clarence Otis Jr., Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Darden Restaurants, Inc.
- Maria A. Sastre, President and Chief Operating Officer of Signature Flight Support Corporation, a fixed based operation and distribution network for business aviation services.
1000 Darden Center Drive
Orlando, FL 32837
Related PRWatch articles
Brendan Fischer, Efforts to Deliver "Kill Shot" to Paid Sick Leave Tied to ALEC, April 3, 2013.
Mary Bottari, The "Other NRA," the National Restaurant Association, Pushes Preemption of Paid Sick Days, July 24, 2013.
Rebekah Wilce, Darden Restaurants Dumps ALEC in Favor of ALEC-Affiliated Group, April 15, 2013.
Philip Mattera, Darden Restaurants: Corporate Rap Sheet, January 17, 2014.
- Darden Restaurants Inc., Form 10-K, 2013.
- Darden Restaurants, website.
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- Darden Restaurants: Summary, Opensecrets.org, September, 2013.
- Darden Restaurants, Influence Explorer, September, 2013.
- Rebekah Wilce, Darden Restaurants Dumps ALEC in Favor of ALEC-Affiliated Group, PRWatch.org, September, 2013.
- Private Enterprise Board, ALEC.org, September, 2013.
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- Aaron Deslatte, Senate waters down Orange-inspired sick-leave bill, removes 'living wage' preemption, Orlando Sentinel, April 25, 2013.
- Esmé E. Deprez, Coughing Cooks Stay Home as U.S. Cities Require Paid Sick Leave, Bloomberg, March, 21, 2013.
- Clarence Otis Jr. Bio, Darden.com, Accessed September, 2013.
- Mark Chediak, Darden chief Clarence Otis is active in the Orlando-area business and arts community, Orlando Sentinel, November 2, 2008.
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- Goizueta Newsroom, Otis Talks Corporate Social Responsibility, Emory Goizueta Business School, November 4, 2011.
- Clarence Otis Jr., What's stopping job creation? Too much regulation, CNN, December 6, 2011.
- Robert S. McAdam bio, Darden website, Accessed September 2013.
- Michael Barbaro, A New Weapon for Wal-Mart: A War Room , The New York Times, November 1, 2005.
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