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2006-11-06
Antioch, CA. Wal-Mart Spends Big Bucks In City Council Race

Citizen Wal-Mart is spending big bucks in the Antioch, California city Council race, right before a key vote on their superstore project. A state senator and two Congressional leaders have criticized the retail corporation from inserting its money to influence the outcome of the City Council race. State Senator Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch), and U.S. Congressmen Ellen Tauscher (D-Alamo) and George Miller (D-Martinez) argued this week that Wal-Mart is buying votes to further its own special interests. "It's a bully tactic," Torlakson told the Contra Costa Times. "They're trying to buy the election and bully the process. What they did is legal, but it's an issue the voters of Antioch should look at very carefully when such a huge corporate entity comes in and tries to strong-arm local elections and the democratic process." Wal-Mart has already spent $50,722.01 on fliers and other materials supporting a candidate named Manny Soliz. According to expenditure reports required by state law, Wal-Mart spent the money on postage for direct mailings, printing costs, and phone calls soliciting support for Soliz's campaign. Wal-Mart spent the money "independently" of Soliz's campaign to win a seat on the council in the election next Tuesday, November 7th. Wal-Mart said they decided to back Soliz after doing their own review of the candidates. They are claiming that Soliz did not ask for Wal-Mart's money or their endorsement. Two incumbents are seeking reelection. Wal-Mart's major political contribution comes just one week after the City Council voted to continue until January their final decision on a Wal-Mart proposal to expand its store in Antioch by 79,980 s.f. to create a 203,103 s.f. supercenter. "Wal-Mart's timing doesn't smell right," one Councilman told the Times. "If I were in Manny's position, this would make feel very uncomfortable and put me in an awkward position." Antioch Mayor Donald Freitas charged that Wal-Mart is "pulling out the stops to buy a vote on the Council, which is not in the best interest of Antioch. The voters need to stand up to special interests. Don't be hoodwinked, this is not about consumer choice. Local government is the most democratic form of government, and this is a corporation trying to corrupt that freedom." Congresswoman Tauscher added, "I'm disturbed when any entity drops more than $40,000 into a local race to try and influence voters. This is an unfortunate extension of what's going on in national and state politics. This is a corporation using its influence and money to try and sway voters and deny them the facts they need." Congressman Miller, who has published research critical of Wal-Mart's financial impact on taxpayers, said, "They have every right to get involved in a campaign, but there's a specific matter hanging before the City Council . . . it certainly appears that it's an effort to ensure the outcome of that vote. It's a very heavy handed way to do politics . . . it certainly casts a cloud over any vote on that matter the candidate might make." Soliz said that his campaign has raised the issue that one of the incumbent city Councilors, Jim Conley, tried to get Wal-Mart to contribute $1 million to pay for a soccer field for the children of Antioch. "I think as people look into this they'll see that the real issue is that an elected official in Antioch attempted to extort money out of an existing business in Antioch. It has had a chilling effect on the business community. It could make it very difficult to bring new businesses to Antioch if they think they have to comply with an extortion racket coming out of city hall." Conley replied, "I'm not asking Wal-Mart to do anything they haven't done in other communities... I just think it's cheaper for them to try and buy Manny than it is to do something they have done for other communities. This is a matter of egos. They're saying, 'We're not going to let Antioch tell us what to do.' Wal-Mart could have picked on anybody. I'm not saying, 'Manny, Manny, Manny' -- I'm saying, 'Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart.'" Conley urged voters to keep in mind "the golden rule." "He who has the gold makes the rules," he said, "and you can't have that in an election."

What you can do: It is true that Wal-Mart has offered, and has been asked, in many communities, to make off-site improvements to the community. Wal-Mart's standard opening ceremony for a superstore includes passing out a handful of small contributions to local community efforts. Sprawl-Busters has written of cases in which retailers offer land, money, or other goods, like a new fire truck, as a way to grease its entry into town. But the issue here is the corrosive effect that corporate money has on local politics. If corporations can buy city councilors in Antioch, they can buy them in your hometown too. This is an unresolved issue of campaign finance reform. To Citizen Wal-Mart, democracy in the corporate context means the person with the most money wins. For related stories, search by "corporate democracy" or "political."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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