Wal-Mart must think that participatory democracy is like buying an ad. In several cases recently, the merchant of mass mediocrity has decided to form “citizens” groups to push some corporate interest onto the ballot box. For example, in Eureka, CA, Wal-Mart created what we call an “astro-roots” group (as opposed to a grassroots group) to push a rezoning ballot measure (which they lost). The Wal-Mart creation was called “Eureka Citizens, Businesses and Wal-Mart stores for Responsible Economic Planning (the acronym for that is: ECBWMSREP). Back in the early 90s, when Wal-Mart was just learning the electoral campaign process, they gave their astro roots groups simpler names, as in “Citizens for Economic Growth”, which they used in my hometown of Greenfield, MA. The company is at it once again in Tucson, AZ. After watching the City Council enact a temporary zoning ordinance that they don’t like, Wal-Mart has swung into action, creating another “citizens” group, this time with the name “Consumers for Retail Choice Sponsored by Wal-Mart Stores”. In acting like a citizen, Wal-Mart has turned the ballot box into a form of advertising, like a TV spot that ends with the tag line: Sponsored by Wal-Mart Stores. In the Tucson case, Wal-Mart has already spent $27,500 on “petition gatherers” who hit the streets on Wal-Mart’s dime to collect ballot signatures to put their challenge to Tucson’s new zoning ordinance on next May’s Ballot. So the new Tucson group, CRCSBWMS, is not gearing up to spend perhaps several hundred thousand dollars (probably much more, because Wal-Mart dumped a quarter of a million dollars in little Eureka — but Tucson is a big city). The Tucson ballot question is likely to become the largest single expenditure that Wal-Mart has ever made to win votes in an election. They may find plenty of help from Home Depot, which also wants to see the new ordinance overturned. It’s called Corporate Democracy, and its not red, white and blue — it’s green, all green.
If Wal-Mart was being straight with the voters, they would come up with front groups with names like: “Citizens Working to Improve Wal-Mart’s Bottom Line”, or “Consumers for Wal-Mart Market Share”. The buzz word “retail choice” seems to be popular these days in Bentonville, AR. Any choice that the consumer makes seems to be fine, as long as its a Wal-Mart that’s chosen. Don’t be surprised to see community groups springing up with names like “Actual Citizens for Tucson Sponsored by Actual Citizens for Tucson”.