Chicagoist Catches Walmart Astroturfing As Populist Local Group

Kevin Robinson at the blog Chicagoist was curious about a commenter who sounded suspiciously on-message on some recent Walmart posts. Walmart wants to come into Chicago, and Walmart’s opponents are fighting the retailer at the community level to prevent that. In return, a pro-Walmart community group has formed called “Our Community, Your Choice” that argues, “Everyone else but Chatham and the South Side are making the decisions – It’s OUR CHOICE, NOT THEIRS.”

Robinson wanted to know who was behind “Our Community, Your Choice.” After all, with a name like that you’d expect it to be an authentic representation of local residents. What he found was that it was connected to a PR firm working for Walmart.

Robinson also spoke with someone who represents the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, which is connected to “Our Community, Your Choice.”. The man he spoke with confirmed that Walmart was a member of the trade group, but otherwise wouldn’t comment on the misleading way that “Our Community, Your Choice” was pretending to represent local interests. In fact, Robinson couldn’t even get a straight answer out of the Chamber of Commerce guy on whether or not he was actually in Chicago:

Because I got to Mr. Mini through Our Community, Our Choice, I asked what his involvement in the site was. “It’s part of our advocacy effort to gain support,” and that “we set that up as a way to communicate with people. We were expecting this to come up for a vote before the council sooner, but obviously it’s been stalled.” I asked him if he was familiar with [consulting firm and PR agency] Serafin and Associates. “Yes, we have worked with them in our strategy sessions. We’ve worked with [Thomas] Serafin and his team.” When I told him that our site had gotten comments from the email address that led me to him and asked if he knew that it was being used to comment on blogs, he said “no, not that I’m aware of.” Are you surprised that an IP address from Serafin was being used that way? “No, not in particular.” Why not? “I really can’t comment without looking into it further.”

Given that Wal-Mart supporters (and the website run by the Chicagoland Chamber) claim that opponents to Wal-Mart are outsiders that don’t live in the neighborhood, I thought I should find out if Mike Mini lived in Chatham. “Uh, no.” What part of Chicago you live in? “No comment.” Do you even live in Chicago at all? “No comment.”

“Wal-Mart Using Fake Community Group to Manufacture Support” [Chicagoist]