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Wed, Dec. 11

Wal-Mart foes face campaign violation charges

The Daily Courier/Jo.L.Keener – The water level on Willow Lake has receded drastically from Willow Creek Road near the Heritage Park Zoo.

The Daily Courier/Jo.L.Keener – The water level on Willow Lake has receded drastically from Willow Creek Road near the Heritage Park Zoo.

PRESCOTT VALLEY - More than two months after voters backed a referendum to welcome a Wal-Mart supercenter, the union-backed committee that urged a "no" vote faces allegations of campaign violations.

Ironically, the Protect Prescott Valley committee must answer to charges of violations of state campaign disclosure laws similar to what the committee leveled against the pro-Wal-Mart committee, Friends of Prescott Valley, Yes on 400.

In fact, Town Attorney Ivan Legler in a letter dated May 17 gave Mike Vespoli, treasurer of Protect Prescott Valley, until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the allegations. Town Clerk Diane Russell said as of Friday morning that she heard "not a word" from the Protect panel, which Local 99 of the United Food and Commercial Workers sponsored.

Vespoli's committee qualified Proposition 400 for the March 13 town-wide ballot with the goal of overturning a Town Council decision from this past July 27 to rezone 19.5 acres at Glassford Hill Road and Lakeshore Drive to accommodate Wal-Mart. Voters backed Proposition 400 by a margin of about 66 percent to 34 percent in the mail-only election.

Vespoli alleged in correspondence with Russell that the Friends committee committed numerous violations. On April 30 Friends reached an agreement with town government officials to pay $22,500 to settle a dispute on campaign finance reporting, with the money going into the town's new graffiti abatement campaign.

In a letter bearing the same date, Friends chairwoman Jeri Ann Kooiman filed a complaint with Town Clerk Diane Russell alleging that the opposing committee did not report all of the costs for a public opinion poll, campaign signs and the distribution of leaflets at the Tim's Toyota Center.

"It is apparent that the Protect Prescott Valley Committee failed to report the full value of these expenditures, failed to notify the Town Clerk within 24 hours of incurring expenditures in excess of $10,000, and failed to report the true date on which each expenditure was made," she wrote Russell.

Kooiman, a real estate broker who indicated that she sought to run a "positive campaign" on behalf of Proposition 400, said Thursday morning that she was too busy to respond to questions from a reporter from The Daily Courier. She did not return a follow-up phone call.

Paul Ulan, president of Primary Consultants, a Phoenix-based political consulting company that represented Protect Prescott Valley, did not respond to three voicemail messages from The Daily Courier.

While both committees accuse each other of violating campaign disclosure laws, the pro-Wal-Mart organization raised considerably more money, according to campaign reports on file at Russell's office. As of the reporting period that covers Feb. 22 to April 2, Friends reported raising about $302,658. Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., contributed all but $25,000 of the total.

The remainder came from Fain Signature Group, a Prescott Valley-based developer that provided the site for the future Wal-Mart.

By contrast, Protect Prescott Valley reported raising a combined $11,400, and all of the money came from Local 99.

Even if the committee leaders do not raise or spend any more money, they must continue to file reports with the town clerk's office until they terminate their committees, Russell said. She added the next reporting period covers April 3 through June 30.

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