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Walmart PAC donated to vote-flippers’ favored charities

February 4, 2011 - 1:13 pm

Tony Young at Jackie Robinson YMCA event

Walmart’s political action committee, San Diego Consumers for Choice, donated to charities supported by San Diego City Council members Todd Gloria and Tony Young, who on Tuesday changed their vote and repealed an ordinance opposed by the mega-corporation.

According to campaign-finance statements filed on Jan. 31, the PAC donated $7,500 to the Jackie Robinson YMCA, where Young participated in a Toys for Tots drive and was a special guest at the annual “Christmas with Character” party on Dec. 18. The Alpha Project, an organization for which Gloria regularly fundraises, picked up $10,000 from the PAC. Gloria volunteered at the city’s winter homeless shelter, which is run by the Alpha Project, on Dec. 15.

The PAC also donated $10,000 to San Diego Earthworks, an environmental organization; Gloria will be hosting Earthworks’ annual awards ceremony in May.

Initially Young and Gloria voted to require that any retailer wishing to build a store 90,000 square feet or larger in San Diego first study the potential economic and environmental impact on the surrounding community. After Walmart produced enough signatures to force an election on the ordinance, Young and Gloria voted with five other councilmembers on Tuesday to repeal it, citing the cost—roughly $2.5 million—of holding the election.

Young and Gloria’s offices say neither had knowledge of Walmart’s contribution. Walmart did not disclose on its paperwork when the donations were made, but the reports indicate most were made between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. The PAC’s treasurer has not yet returned calls.

The PAC also made a $200 civic donation to the Barrio Logan College Institute, where newly elected council member David Alvarez has worked as an after-school teacher and mentor. The lone dissenting vote on the repeal, Marti Emerald, has also been involved in fundraising for the Alpha Project and served as grand marshall of Earthworks’ Earth Day parade in 2007.

To be clear, we are not alleging that Young, Gloria or Alvarez were influenced by these donations—knowing the city council members and their reputations, we doubt they were. However, we cannot help but note that the donations were made with campaign funds, while Walmart has other vehicles for philanthropy. The contributions may have been an attempt by Walmart to improve its public profile in the community or to access or influence the city council members directly or through their supporters and causes. Of course, the PAC could have been giving purely out of the goodness of its heart, but the fact remains the donations went to these groups specifically rather than other worthy non-profit organizations.

All told, the PAC spent $1.2 million in 2010 using contributions exclusively from Walmart Stores, Inc. These expenditures included $25,000 passed to the Republican Party of San Diego County, and civic donations of $22,500 to the San Diego County Taxpayers’ Association, $20,000 to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and $1,500 to the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce—all of which are pro-business and have historically supported Walmart.

No further civic donations were reported.

UPDATE 4:24 PM:

Young just called and unequivocally denied knowing anything about the donation.

“I didn’t talk to them about any specific person or organization that they would ever give money to–not one time,” Young tells Citybeat. “I would never do that. I didn’t want to get caught up in that kind of shit. I definitely did not go there and I have no idea who they gave money to.”

Young was surprised to learn from CityBeat that Walmart’s PAC—as opposed to its foundation—donated the money, but says he wouldn’t put it past Walmart’s lobbyists.

“You saw that they are pretty aggressive when it comes to stuff like that,” he said.

Young says that the YMCA never mentioned the donation to him, but he does feel the organization is worthy of financial support. However, if Walmart really wanted to get his attention, he’s told them all along how.

“They said they want to build in a neighborhood like mine,” Young says. “I’m still waiting for the phone call.”

 

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