GRAND RAPIDS- Meijer Inc. said yesterday an internal investigation revealed it likely violated Michigan campaign finance laws in a clash with local officials over a proposed development in Grand Traverse County.
The Grand Rapids-based retailer said it may have broken the law by “providing corporate funds to support a recall election” of Acme Township officials in 2007. State law prohibits corporations from contributing to political campaigns. A violation is a felony with a maximum fine of $10,000.
Meijer said another possible problem was its involvement in a 2005 referendum election to overturn a moratorium on “big box superstores” in the township.
“We are troubled and concerned by what has occurred,” Meijer said in a statement. “Meijer accepts full responsibility, and we apologize for the violation of trust these actions caused.”
Company officials said they will continue to cooperate with a state investigation into the situation and will accept any resulting penalties and fines.
Meijer said it also might take personnel actions related to the case.
The situation is being reviewed by the secretary of state’s legal and regulatory bureau. The attorney who handled the investigation for Meijer sent a letter to the bureau requesting details on how to proceed and offering documentation.The letter said the review found that certain expenditures that should have been made by Meijer’s political action committee were instead made by Meijer Inc. directly.
Michigan State Police are investigating at the request of the Grand Traverse County prosecutor.
Meijer and local supporters have fought for years with local opponents over a plan to build a store in the township a few miles east of Traverse City.
In 2004, Meijer and a development company called Village at Grand Traverse sued a number of township officials opposed to the project, accusing them of a conflict of interest.
Meijer filed another suit in 2006 against four township board members over a proposed store in a neighboring mixed-use development. Meijer later dropped its individual lawsuits in both cases, but the Village did not.
A pro-Meijer group of local residents tried to recall township board members but lost in a February 2007 referendum. Afterward, township Treasurer Bill Boltres sued Meijer, accusing the retailer of damaging his health and reputation.
The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount.
The Traverse City Record-Eagle reported in December that records from the suit showed that a Grand Rapids public relations firm had billed Meijer more than $30,000 for secretly managing the recall campaign.
The firm crafted recall language, devised election strategy, wrote campaign literature and used local residents as figureheads, the newspaper reported.
Messages seeking comment were left with Boltres and his attorney yesterday.