Rival-Funded Wal-Mart Demonstrators Beggar Thy NeighborMary Theroux • Monday June 14, 2010 2:15 PM PDT •
Power corrupts, and the power of political activism to thwart the lawful use of private property continues to corrupt our once-free market of competitive enterprises. It turns out that those “spontaneous” demonstrations against Wall-Mart in community after community are in fact well-funded and professionally orchestrated political activist campaigns bought and paid for by Wal-Mart’s highly unionized supermarket rivals, as well as by the unions themselves.
This profile shows how the Saint Consulting Group has succeeded through using
political-campaign tactics—petition drives, phone banks, websites—to build support for or against controversial projects, from oil refineries and shopping centers to quarries and landfills. Over the years, it has conducted about 1,500 campaigns in 44 states. Mr. Saint says about 500 have involved trying to block a development, and most of those have been clandestine.
Among the firm’s clients,
Safeway, a national chain based in Pleasanton, Calif., retained Saint to thwart Wal-Mart Supercenters in more than 30 towns in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii in recent years .... Former Saint employees say much of the work consisted of training Safeway’s unionized workers to fight land-use battles, including how to speak at public hearings.
Proudly calling themselves the “Wal-Mart killers,” Saint’s operatives might more accurately be dubbed the “consumer and community killers,” as their tactics deprive consumers—and especially, the lower income shoppers comprising Wal-Mart’s base—access to the benefits of the wide selection and lower prices the presence of a Wal-Mart brings (including lowering the prices competitors offer), as well as its jobs. And even ultimately unsuccessful campaigns can more than double the time it takes to open a new Wal-Mart, producing in the process huge additional costs for consumers and communities. With the delays of one Wal-Mart alone estimated to have cost the developer over $3 million in legal fees, and the local government an estimated $6 million per year in sales and property-tax revenue, these legal and opportunity costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers and consumers.
It’s well past time to expose “community activists” asserting the evils of development—even those not explicitly manufactured by tactics such as these—as furthering the interests of the rich and the politically savvy at the expense of the poor and powerless, and end the ability to use politics to trump property rights.
For more on this issue, see the Institute’s newest book, Property Rights: Eminent Domain and Regulatory Takings Re-Examined