In recent weeks, The Sacramento Bee has shined light on a shadowy political campaign by opponents of the new Kings arena and called for the secret funders of the anti-arena petition drive to make their identities known to city voters. The Bee is correct that the right of citizens to know who is influencing our government and elections is critical to a fundamental and legitimate rule of law.
For the same reason, the City Council should postpone its planned vote today on a Wal-Mart-backed proposal to gut protections for neighborhoods and small businesses when "big-box" stores locate in our city.
Two weeks ago, I filed formal complaints asking the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and the U.S. attorney to investigate a series of questionable money transfers between a Wal-Mart-affiliated nonprofit, Mayor Kevin Johnson's pet charity, and the mayor himself.
My action came after The Bee reported that, in 2012, Mayor Johnson solicited $500,000 in contributions from the Walton Family Foundation to Stand Up for Sacramento Schools, an organization he founded, and an additional $200,000 from the Wal-Mart Foundation to other nonprofit organizations. Not only do public records show that these dollars make up the lion's share of Stand Up's budget, but the sum solicited from Wal-Mart-related entities by just the Sacramento mayor and City Council is so large it eclipses charitable contributions made at the behest of all members of the state Legislature combined.
Public records show more than $20,000 of this money made its way back to the mayor in the form of travel reimbursements from Stand Up, raising even more questions. We also know that the mayor wasn't even straightforward with voters about his solicitation of those funds: In December 2012, the state's election watchdog agency issued a record-breaking fine for his failure to come clean with voters about the Walton family money.
Does the flow of money from Wal-Mart and the Walton family to Mayor Johnson break the law? Or was asking for more than a half million dollars before this critical vote merely a colossal act of poor judgment on the part of the mayor? We need the outcome of the state and federal investigations to know for sure. In the meantime, a vote on watering down the ordinance would send a signal that some individuals and groups don't have to play by the same rules.
State law requires politicians to disclose donations made to entities at their behest, and the laws that require elected officials to abstain from voting on decisions in which they have a personal or financial interest exist to protect all of us.
These rules ensure that anyone whether they are a reporter from this newspaper or someone like me who is a gardener for a local public utility has the right to know who is influencing our government. To an ordinary citizen like me who looks at the public record of news reports and campaign finance records, the money trail between the Walton family and Mayor Johnson just doesn't pass the smell test. When we learn these large money transfers were made in advance of a vote in which Wal-Mart and the Walton family has a significant financial interest, the signs point to something rotten in City Hall.
I want to be very transparent myself: I have been a part of the OUR Wal-Mart campaign over the last year. The campaign raises community awareness about how Wal-Mart's employment tactics hurt workers and communities, driving out locally owned businesses, driving down wages and shifting costs onto taxpayers.
But no matter what you think about Wal-Mart, I think we can all agree that Sacramento's citizens deserve to know the details of Mayor Johnson's affiliations with Wal-Mart, the Walton Family Foundation and any donations he has personally benefitted from as the City Council prepares to vote on this critical matter.
Sacramentans deserve no less than a full and honest debate on the benefit of the big-box ordinance to our community. The council should postpone the vote on the big-box ordinance until the appropriate authorities have examined this money trail and given our community the information we need and deserve.
Eric Sunderland, a gardener with a local public utility, is an unpaid volunteer with the OUR Wal-Mart campaign. The principal funder of the campaign is the United Food and Commercial Workers.