BENTONVILLE -- Members of the Walton family contributed $38,250 to five political newcomers for City Council, according to campaign contribution reports filed with the Benton County Clerk's Office.
Chris Sooter, Ward 2, Position 2 candidate, was the only other candidate to receive contributions from the Walton family.
At A Glance
Early voting is open. The general election is Nov. 4.
There are 19 candidates running for eight Bentonville City Council seats. Voters elect aldermen at-large, meaning each voter can cast a vote in each race. Candidates must reside in the ward they’re wanting to represent. The candidates are:
Ward 1, Position 1
• Stephanie Orman
• Jon Cavness
• Michael Williams
Ward 1, Position 2
• John Skaggs*
• Chad Yoes
Ward 2, Position 1
• Tim Robinson
• Roger Thomas*
Ward 2, Position 2
• Chris Sooter*
• Shane Miller
Ward 3, Position 1
• James Smith*
• Craig Soos
Ward 3, Position 2
• Kristy Reed
• Bryan Bennett
• Bill Burckart*
Ward 4, Position 1
• Octavio Sanchez
• Burton Head*
Ward 4, Position 2
• Jim Grider*
• Jim Webb
• Anthony Ciabattari
Source: Staff Report
The five candidates are Chad Yoes, Ward 1, Position 2; Tim Robinson, Ward 2, Position 1; Craig Soos, Ward 3, Position 1; Kristy Reed, Ward 3, Position 2; and Jim Webb, Ward 4, Position 2.
Each candidate received at least $7,450 from the Walton family by way of $2,000 from Lukas Walton, Tom Walton and Steuart Walton; $1,000 from James Walton; $250 from Jim Walton; and $200 from Christy Walton, according to the reports.
Reed also received $1,000 from Alice Walton.
The five candidates also received $2,000 each from Better Bentonville Today, a political action committee. The committee registered with the Arkansas Secretary of State's office Sept. 9. Its officers are Marcus Osborne and Marshall Ney, according to the state's Registered PAC Report.
The committee pooled small monetary donations from individuals and distributed larger contributions to candidates who were aligned with a "pro-development approach" the committee supports, Osborne said.
Osborne said the committee selected candidates to give money to after screening them with a series of questions. The committee tried to screen all 19 candidates, but some didn't respond and it was tough to find good contact information for others, he said.
At least two candidates, Jim Grider, Ward 4, Position 2, and Bill Burckart, Ward 3, Position 2, said they were never contacted by Better Bentonville Today.
A group of individuals receiving that large amount of money is concerning, said Grider and Burckart, both incumbents.
"It's not good that there's a large amount of money going to a group of people because that indicates there's a real desire by that group to control city government," Grider said.
Grider spent $1,405 on his campaign, $400 of which was donated by family.
Burckart said he doesn't feel like he's at a disadvantage despite the large financial contributions to some candidates because he believes residents know how diligently he works as an alderman. However, he said he can see how that kind of money can influence an election, especially on the local level.
If all five candidates were to win, they would have the majority vote and could control the council, he said.
"I've never seen a takeover attempt in this fashion," he said.
It's important to have "independent-minded individuals from various backgrounds" serve on the council because it better represents the constituents represented and what's needed, Burckart said.
Four candidates' reports also show Osborne contributed $438 for food for a campaign party in August. Webb's report says Osborne contributed $105 for food at a kickoff party.
Osborne said that campaign event wasn't affiliated with Better Bentonville Today. He said seven or eight candidates were invited but "five or so" attended.
The Waltons' contributions to the five new candidates is just part of the total of $62,635 contributions they received. Yoes received the most with $18,350. Many other contributors were Walmart employees, the report shows. Robinson received the least with $10,100.
Yoes, Robinson, Soos, Reed and Webb spent a combined $53,967, according to the reports. Most of the money was spent on "other advertising," direct mail and paying campaign workers.
The combined expenses of the other six candidates who filed their reports on time was $11,681. Most of the money went to signs, graphic design costs and promotional items.
Stephanie Orman, Ward 1, Position 1 candidate, spent the most with $3,867. Her largest expense was $1,500 for a billboard, her report shows.
Yoes was the only one of the five candidates who didn't hire campaign workers. Reed spent the most with $3,497 for 19 workers, and Soos spent the least with $300 for one person, according to the reports. Robinson had paid help from 21 people, and Webb had 20 paid workers.
There were 18 people who worked for at least two campaigns, and nine worked for three, documents show.
Webb said he, Yoes, Robinson, Soos and Reed share the same thoughts that Bentonville "needs some new blood and new ideas."
"If you want to call it aligned or whatever, I'm totally fine with that," he said. "I find it absolutely hilarious that there are people making these accusations that there's an underlying agenda."
Reed said she's heard some of the talk about the five candidates running as a group with an agenda, but tries not to pay attention to it.
"I'm just like every other citizen; I have the opportunity to support the other seven races and support the candidates that I think make the most sense," she said. "I've seen all of these guys and their work, and I'm 100 percent in full support of (Yoes, Soos, Robinson and Webb)."
Reed said her campaign is going well, and people have been pleasant and receptive.
Sooter received $5,250 from the Waltons. Lukas and Steuart Walton each gave Sooter $2,000. James and Tom Walton each gave Sooter $500, and Jim Walton added $250, according to his report.
Sooter also received $500 from Better Bentonville Today and $300 from Alan Lewis and Nancy Martin, for a total of $6,050.
"I'm not affiliated with any group of candidates or candidate," Sooter said. "I'm running my own campaign."
Sooter, who's seeking his seventh term, said he's never solicited campaign donations. He received a call about six weeks ago informing him there were some donors for his campaign this year, he said.
"I wouldn't solicit any donations, but I'm not going to turn down the support of (the Waltons) because they're obviously a major component of our community," he said.
Sooter said he's always received moral support from the Waltons as their families go back two or three generations. This is the first year they have financially contributed to his campaign. Sooter said he's not sure why they gave money now.
"There were no instructions to me other than they would like to support my campaign," he said. "I have no agenda. I'm just a City Council person wanting to do good things in Bentonville."
The council has done remarkable things for the last six years, Burckart said. The energy on council is promoting business and encouraging private-public partnerships.
"We have a tremendous amount in the works," he said. "It's running as smooth as it ever has, and I would like to see it continue without massive disruption."
Six of the 19 candidates failed to file their report by the Oct. 28 deadline. Those candidates are Michael Williams, Ward 1, Position 1; John Skaggs, Ward 1, Position 2; Roger Thomas, Ward 2, Position 1; Bryan Bennett and Burckart, Ward 3, Position 2; and Burton Head, Ward 4, Position 1.
Candidates are only required to file a pre-election campaign report if they have received or spent more than $500, according to state law. Those who miss the deadline are subject to fines depending how late they file and how many times they've violated the rule.
Someone would have to file a complaint with the Arkansas Ethics Commission before action is taken against a candidate, said Tena O'Brien, Benton County Clerk.
O'Brien added she's not required to file a complaint as the county clerk.
Final campaign reports are due Dec. 31.
NW News on 10/31/2014