Traverse City Record-Eagle

Meijer-Acme Township Dispute

January 22, 2010

Supreme Court ruling limits Meijer probe

TRAVERSE CITY -- The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uncap limits on corporate political contributions won't derail an investigation into Meijer Inc.'s alleged criminal violations of Michigan campaign law.

The court on Thursday threw out a 63-year-old law designed to restrain the influence of big business and unions on elections, and ruled 5-4 that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates.

The justices did uphold bans against direct contributions to candidates and requirements that anyone spending money on political ads must disclose contributors.

The decision eliminates a possible felony complaint against Meijer officials for using corporate funds to influence an Acme Township recall election, but leaves in place potential misdemeanor violations against Meijer officials for failing to report expenditures.

"We're going to see this through to the end, and whatever we produce as a result of our investigation will be available for public inspection," said Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider.

Meijer admitted in 2008 it spent more than $100,000 on lawyers and a public relations firm to use front groups to secretly influence a 2005 township referendum and a 2007 recall attempt.

The Grand Rapids-area retailer paid a $190,000 civil fine to the Secretary of State and apologized for its actions in an unsigned statement. It's never disclosed who in its corporate hierarchy sanctioned the illegal activity.

"It was the democratic process that they toyed with and they need to be held accountable," said Denny Rohn, president of Concerned Citizens of Acme Township, a group that filed suit against Acme in 2004 after the then-township board approved a Meijer-anchored development. "Whether they spend years in prison or weeks is not the issue for me, ... this community needs to know who authorized this and who is at the bottom of this."

Meijer's lead attorney, John Pirich, did not respond to a request for comment.

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