Wal-Mart strong-arms cities with ballot threats

Wal-Mart used to have TV commercials where a smiling, whistling yellow dot would bounce gleefully around one of their enormous stores, “rolling back” prices on items from motor oil to toothpaste.

If that cartoon dot was bouncing around a California Wal-Mart, that store might be there because locals voted it an exception to their big-box store restrictions. Giving voters a chance to approve a store at least still looks like democracy.

But California Watch reports the Arkansas-based company is often able to leverage cities into approving new stores without an expensive election, by urging them to save thousands or even millions of dollars by merely approving the measure and canning the special election.

In Milpitas, Wal-Mart demonstrated support for a voter-supported initiative with an impressive petition drive. Figuring the initiative would undoubtedly pass, the city council voted to save the $436,000 it would have spent on a special election and instead just approved the initiative as written by Wal-Mart.

Though she originally supported Wal-Mart, Milpitas councilwoman Debbie Giordano is alarmed by their strategy:

“I think that’s a dangerous formula for government … What does that say? Go use your money and your power, go get the signatures, and then we’re going to force you to do whatever.”