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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Meijer Inc. here and a local public relations agency are facing allegations that they circumvented campaign finance requirements by intervening in a local political battle to unseat opponents of a proposed Meijer development near Traverse City last February.
Officials at Meijer said a lack of internal controls might have led to alleged involvement in the recall campaign, but they would have occurred without any knowledge of the supercenter chain's top executives
According to a report in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Seyferth Spaulding Tennyson Inc., a public relations firm that Meijer had hired, allegedly contributed at least $30,000 to a campaign to remove the board of trustees for Grand Traverse County's Acme Township. The press report was based on a review of records.
The public relations agency allegedly also developed recall language, devised an election strategy, wrote campaign literature, and used local residents as figureheads, according to the records cited in the report. The contributions to fund the above were not reported to the state.
"At this time, Meijer and Seyferth Spaulding and Tennyson are fully cooperating with an independent review of allegations made by the media regarding corporate involvement in Acme Township," Meijer spokeswoman Stacie Behler told Progressive Grocer. "John Pirich, a partner with the law firm of Honigman Miller, is conducting this comprehensive review."
Once the review is complete, Behler said, "Meijer and Seyferth will immediately take any necessary steps to comply with reporting requirements."
Michigan state law prohibits corporations from contributing to political campaigns, and stipulates a felony violation with a maximum fine of $10,000. No charges have been filed in the matter thus far.
The documentation cited in the local press reports stem from a civil lawsuit filed by township treasurer William Boltres, who sued Meijer last April charging that the retailer damaged his reputation, health, and peace of mind. On Dec. 21, Meijer announced that it had reached a settlement in that suit.
All seven members of the township board survived the recall vote. The fate of the proposed project remains unclear, as Meijer weighs its options for a site on Michigan 72 just south of Grand Traverse Resort, according to local reports.
Meijer operates 181 supercenters throughout Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky.