Who says money can’t buy an election? Wal-Mart used its corporate treasury to help win friends in yesterday’s ballot question in Boonville, Missouri, where the giant retailer wants to abandon its existing store to build a new supercenter one-fifth of a mile away. Wal-Mart hid behind a “citizen’s” group, funneling political muscle in the form of dollars through the group, and gained a 67% voter victory in the process. Yet one-in-three Boonville voters said they did not want another Wal-Mart — a negative number perhaps higher than any other retailer would provoke. The Boonville vote means that Wal-Mart will try to proceed to build the largest store in the history of Boonville, a 166,017 s.f. supercenter. The “Yes on Proposition A” committee, which was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wal-Mart, filed a campaign finance report with the city that showed the group only raised $50 — but spent $26,000 as of 8 days before the election. The group clearly did not want to show its Wal-Mart money until its next finance report, which gets filed 30 days after the election. That report will show the Show Me state voters that all the money was imported to Boonville via Bentonville. The vote to annex land was 1,386 in favor, to 680 opposed. That means before the final Wal-Mart expenditures are even figured in, the retailer spent close to $19 per vote. It also means that if only 354 people had changed their vote, Wal-Mart would have lost — a number more revealing of how small this election really was. 57% of the town’s voters did not even turn out, so the real victor was apathy. “There was a small, loud group and a very large, quiet group,” one of Wal-Mart’s consultants told the Associated Press. “But they made their voices heard today.” Ken Hirlinger, one of the organizers of the anti-annexation group, “Not So Super For Boonville,” said, “I’m proud of the effort we made. We didn’t lay down and let the Wal-Mart steamroller run through.” Although Wal-Mart won the vote, the city council has already rejected its request for half a million in local welfare to pay for roads and infrastructure to the site. The Wal-Mart project is still clouded by a legal challenge that remains after the annexation vote. A lawsuit is currently pending which challenges the referendum petition process.
The No So Super For Boonville committee clearly made it harder for Wal-Mart to get into town, and forced the company to hire consultants in three states to spend its way to victory. The citizens group did not have the resources to identify its vote, or get it out, a distinct disadvantage to the Wal-Mart group, which could buy more messages with the public, and line up their vote. When the Wal-Mart group called a press conference last Saturday, only three or four people showed up. Wal-Mart has demonstrated again that everything you see is for sale — including elections. Little Boonville, population 8,200, was bought by the highest bidder.