On September 15, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart wanted to locate on a parcel of land in Prescott Valley, Arizona — a parcel which was not properly zoned. The Daily Courier newspaper quoted local residents opposed to Wal-Mart as saying, “We don’t want it rezoned and we don’t want them in. They threaten the jobs of all the small stores here… They do not pay their employees enough to make a living, so we end up paying as taxpayers.” The area already has a Wal-Mart roughly six miles away. The economic development manager for the town admitted at a public hearing, “I have been talking to Wal-Mart for a couple of years and it is no secret. I think they are a ways off from a deal here. I do not think there is anything imminent. It is good that people are taking an interest.” Prescott Valley was the fastest-growing community in Arizona during the 1990s, and according to local sources, is emerging as the state’s primary regional center north of metro Phoenix. The Prescott Valley Town Council voted recently to rezone 19.5 acres to allow the Wal-Mart to build, but local residents have challenged that vote on the ballot. In response, Wal-Mart hired a PR firm and created an “astro-roots” group to overwhelm the grassroots efforts to block their store. The measure is called Proposition 400, and a No vote would kill the rezoning. This week, the Courier reports that a campaign committee set up by Wal-Mart has run afoul of state campaign reporting laws. The town’s Clerk says that the so-called “Friends of Prescott Valley, Yes on 400” is facing a $70,000 fine for not reporting its income. The pro-Wal-Mart group gave the town a campaign statement that lists it has no receipts, but a debt of $33,313 for the Jan. 1 through Feb. 21 reporting period. State law mandates that campaign groups inform the town within 24 hours of its financial activities the first time it receives or spends $10,000 or more. The potential fine the group is facing is calculated as three times the difference of the improperly reported amount and $10,000, which in this case is $23,313. The PR firm that Wal-Mart set up to handle this campaign, described the oversight as “a small error on our part.” The Scottsdale PR firm added, “If so, we will certainly get it rectified.” The $33,313 spent was reportedly for pro-Wal-Mart lawn signs and “ballot arguments.” When confronted by the town Clerk, the PR firm admitted that the “Friends of Prescott Valley” had bought its advertising with “primary funding” from Wal-Mart. On the other side of the issue, a citizen’s group called “Protect Prescott Valley,” which the newspaper called “a union-sponsored group,” says the Wal-Mart astro-roots group did not “correctly and accurately disclose its major funding sources” on its campaign literature, road signs, website and newspaper advertising. Although the Wal-Mart group is showing a huge deficit, one of its members was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “Let me reassure you that the committee has received funding from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. well in excess of the debt amount.” They just forgot to show it. Wal-Mart’s spending on the local campaign far exceeds what anti-Wal-Mart groups could ever hope to raise. Protect Prescott Valley reported a $4,300 contribution from Local 99 of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union. Protect Prescott Valley gathered enough signatures to put the question on the ballot, which will be handled as mail-only ballot.
In Wal-Mart’s world, “corporate democracy” means the person with the most cash wins. Sometimes that plays out, but just as often, local elections can’t be bought. Wal-Mart and other big box retailers have been known to spend as much as a quarter of a million dollars on one election. The astro-roots groups create a thin veneer over Wal-Mart spending, but the campaign finance reports always show that such groups are just another arm of the retailer’s corporate structure. Because Wal-Mart so often goes against local wishes of residents, they end up spending money — and years — fighting battles that other retailers often avoid. Instead of working with local groups to reach a compromise, they push stores so big that many residents feel they have no choice but to fight. This Prescott Valley siting case has dragged on now for several years. That represents several hundred million dollars worth of sales that Wal-Mart did not get from Prescott Valley. If Wal-Mart were to win their money battle at the ballot, they have still lost years of revenue. Multiply that by all the site fights going on around the nation, and the bottom line is billions in lost sales due to local opposition. These astro-roots groups don’t like to show Wal-Mart contributions on their financial reports, so they try to hold off reporting Wal-Mart financing until their final campaign report, which is often 30 days after the voting has taken place. In this case, the committee showed a large deficit — but none of their vendors would have printed up lawn signs or taken ads without money in advance. So the “Friends” report is a phony statement, designed to hide the obvious: This citizen’s group is wholly owned, financed, and directed by Wal-Mart. It is a corporate creation, not an organization of citizens. For similar stories, search Newsflash by “ballot” or “astro-roots.”