THE Grand Rapids, Mich.-based and privately owned Meijer Inc. has been winning laurels for years as an outstanding, homegrown corporate citizen. Still privately owned by the family that founded it, it now has more than 180 superstores across the Midwest, and has been expanding in Michigan and Ohio. It was the first retailer to successfully combine grocery and department stores in a "one-stop" shopping "hyper-store" approach, and some ratings services have consistently ranked it the best at what it does.
Yet over the last year, Meijer's admirers have had some of their illusions dashed.
Thanks to a couple of lawsuits, it has been learned that Meijer funneled at least $34,000 through its lawyers to a public relations firm in an attempt to recall the elected officials of tiny Acme, a northern Michigan town near Traverse City.
The reason? The officials had the temerity to oppose a new Meijer superstore. The recall effort failed ignominiously. And earlier this month, Meijer admitted that the donations were probably illegal.
Michigan law bars corporations from either contributing to an election campaign or from routing campaign cash through a third party. Michigan State Police reportedly are conducting a criminal investigation into the giant retailer's behavior.
Nor is that the only embarrassment Meijer has had lately: The Traverse City Record-Eagle recently discovered that state lawmakers had quietly crafted a unique $8.5 million tax break for Meijer "even as they were increasing income taxes on the rest of us suckers."
While Meijer needs to be taken to the woodshed, it is probably far from the worst offender. Corporations may be forbidden to donate directly to political campaigns, but in this decade the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, essentially a lobbying group for big business, has spent millions in a successful effort to elect Republican state supreme court justices.
It isn't quite clear why this sort of spending should be legal, though it is clear that business interests will open their wallets wide this year to re-elect Chief Justice Clifford Taylor to another term on Michigan's nastily partisan high court.
In political science textbooks, the classic definition of fascism is "the corporate state." Nobody's suggesting that Michigan is becoming fascist. But the ever-more-blatant abuse of corporate power for political purposes ought to make Lansing think twice, and spur the legislature to consider possible remedies.43.69832 -85.48083