In a corporate democracy, the one with the most money wins. That’s the rule they follow in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Wal-Mart makes lavish “gifts” to local astro-roots citizens groups who support the retailer on election day. Case in point: Prescott Valley, Arizona. Sprawl-Busters reported on March 9, 2007 that the Prescott Valley Town Council had voted in July, 2006 to rezone 19.5 acres to allow Wal-Mart to build a superstore, but local residents 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 was called Proposition 400, and a No vote would have killed the rezoning. The campaign committee set up by Wal-Mart ran afoul of state campaign reporting laws, and the town Clerk said that the so-called “Friends of Prescott Valley, Yes on 400” was facing a $70,000 fine for not reporting its income. This pro-Wal-Mart group gave the town a campaign statement that said the group had 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. On March 13th, the voters supported the Wal-Mart rezoning by a 65% majority. It turns out that every vote in Prescott Valley was worth its weight in gold, as the group received more than $300,658 from Wal-Mart and its consultants. The “Friends” group had very wealthy ties at Wal-Mart. The group reported receiving contributions from Wal-Mart Stores of Bentonville, Ark., of $100,000 on March 9, $116,100 March 12 and about $59,558 March 16, and $25,000 from the Prescott Valley-based Fain group March 9. The committee reported spending $266,243 during the Feb. 22 to April 2 reporting period. The group “Protect Prescott Valley,” received a total of $1,500 from Local 99 of the United Food & Commercial Workers union, and spent $1,486 during the same reporting period. That means for every one dollar spent by the anti Wal-Mart group, $179 was spent by the pro Wal-Mart group. In local ballot questions, finance law allows corporations to spend an unlimited amount of funding. The Friends of Prescott Valley faxed its financial report late to the town. The Town Attorney required the Friends group to submit an amended report for the pre-primary reporting period of Jan. 1 to Feb. 21 because he determined the previously submitted report was incomplete. The town notified the pro-Wal-Mart committee on April 2 that they faced a $30,000 fine but had the right to challenge the penalty.
Prescott Valley was for sale to the highest bidder. While voters clamor for campaign finance reform, corporations like Wal-Mart are able to bury their opponents in a landslide of funding. In this case, the opinion of Arizona voters were purchased with Arkansas money. The anti-Wal-Mart group, working with no funds, still managed to garner 35% of the vote. With the amount of advertising and direct voter contact Wal-Mart bought, its surprising they didn’t do even better. Corporations should not be allowed to buy elections with cash contributions, but until state legislatures impose limits on corporate contributions, companies like Wal-Mart will spend what it takes to overwhelm their opponents, and protect their future sales revenues. On top of this unseemly spending, is the fact that Wal-Mart tried to hide its financial involvement until after the election, allowing the local group to file false statements that hid its revenues, and showed the group deeply in debt. This is how Wal-Mart does its “democratic” business on election day.