Iowa Democratic groups weigh doing business with Hy-Vee

News that Hy-Vee’s political action committee donated $25,000 to the Republican Party of Iowa shortly before a recent fundraiser featuring President Donald Trump is prompting some Iowa Democratic organizations to re-examine the business they give to the major grocery store chain.

Leaders of the West Des Moines Democrats decided to cancel a contract for Hy-Vee to cater an upcoming picnic that is one of the group’s biggest fundraisers.

Several members of the Polk County Democratic Central Committee raised concerns this week about plans for Hy-Vee to cater the group’s Steak Fry in September, which could attract thousands of caucus-goers.

Victor Dutchuk, leader of the group in one of the largest Des Moines suburbs, provided this statement on June 24.

Given the disturbing information reported by Bleeding Heartland regarding Hy Vee’s ties to and support of the Trump Administration and the Trump campaign, the West Des Moines Democrats have cancelled its agreement with Hy Vee to cater its annual July 3rd picnic. Instead, we are proud to announce that we have contracted the services of Dinner Delights. Dinner Delights and its owner operator Andrea Love share similar values as our organization. We are looking forward to a successful and delicious summer event!

U.S. Representative Cindy Axne and two presidential candidates, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, are slated to speak at the picnic, scheduled for 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm in Legion Park, shortly before the West Des Moines Independence Day parade.

Polk County Democrats chair Sean Bagniewski told party members at the central committee’s June 24 meeting that he had asked Hy-Vee’s PAC for a donation earlier that day. The PAC had noted in a statement provided to the media and customers that it “makes contributions to candidates and leadership committees from both major parties.” The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board’s database shows no record of any previous donations from Hy-Vee’s PAC to the Polk County Democrats. The company’s PAC gave the Polk County Republican Central Committee eleven contributions totaling $11,150 from 2010 through 2014.

Eighteen presidential candidates have accepted invitations to speak at the Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry on September 21. The event will likely be the second-largest Democratic gathering in the state this year, after the Iowa Democratic Party’s Fall Dinner on November 1.

Some Polk County activists were unhappy to learn Hy-Vee is catering the Steak Fry and asked about other options at the latest central committee meeting. Bagniewski explained that no other companies can handle an event on that scale. Asked for comment on June 25, he told Bleeding Heartland,

We actually discussed finding a different vendor last summer. Senator Harkin used them every year for the Steak Fry, so we used them our first year [in 2017]. We had some folks ask us to consider local producers for last year’s Steak Fry.

Our qualifications were that the vendor had to be able to provide several thousand steaks, chicken options, and a vegetarian (now vegan option). They also had to deliver the food, grill it, and wrap the leftovers up for a local shelter. We also wanted them to be able to provide sides, refreshments, plates, utensils, cups, etc.

We were prepared to spend as much as 50% more for another vendor, but we do require that we can place a final order two weeks before the event and then scale up to as much as another 500 steaks in the last two weeks before the event.

The three vendors we talked to weren’t able to do it no matter how much we could pay. None of them could grill. They were all only steak suppliers.

Representatives of the Iowa Democratic Party have not responded to a request for comment about past events either catered by Hy-Vee or booked at a a company-owned venue. I will update this post as needed. Hy-Vee’s PAC has regularly donated to the state party, though the annual amounts have typically been smaller than the PAC’s contributions to the Iowa GOP.

Many readers reacted to Gwen Hope’s article by vowing not to shop at Hy-Vee anymore. After seeing such posts on social media, a few readers contacted me to defend the company as a good employer and the only grocery option in many communities. To be clear, neither the author nor I have called for a boycott. In fact, I bought a few items at the Windsor Heights Hy-Vee this week. However, I plan to do more of my shopping at nearby alternatives that don’t have affiliated PACs directing money to mostly Republican politicians.

The Hy-Vee brand is essentially “all things to all people,” so it’s hardly surprising the company would experience some backlash from customers after its PAC made an unusually large contribution to gain access to the most polarizing political figure of our time.

UPDATE: Reader Rebecca Boyd Dublinske commented that Hy-Vee “is not just a good employer but also employs large numbers of intellectually and physically disabled adults,” for whom those work opportunities “are often long-term and life changing.”

LATER UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party provided this statement on behalf of state chair Troy Price on June 26.

“The Iowa Democratic Party has not held any events at the Hy-Vee Ron Pearson Events Center, and for the foreseeable future our major events in Des Moines are planned to be at the publicly-owned Iowa Events Center. As such, Hy-Vee has never had a chance to offer a break in rental fees for the facility in West Des Moines.

“We have used Hy-Vee for catering and supplies for different events — such as SCC meetings — in the past, and will continue to do so. While we don’t always agree with the funding decisions of the Hy-Vee PAC — and we hope they support the IDP’s efforts to combat food insecurity and improve the health of all Iowans — Hy-Vee employs thousands of Iowans and boosts local economies in communities across our state.

“As far as county parties go, we will let them continue to make the decision as to whether they wish to use Hy-Vee or someone else for their events. And if they do, we will not question their decision, especially since there are many rural communities where Hy-Vee may be the only grocery store in their community.”

Top image: Logos of the West Des Moines Democrats and the Polk County Democrats.

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  • Hy-Vee

    Troy, the reason why Hy-Vee may be the only grocery store in most communities is because it ran competitors out. Super Value was once a strong competitor, but Hy-Vee opened 24-hours and cut prices until Super Value could no longer compete. Then, Hy-Vee closed at 11:00 pm and prices never fell as often. The inner-city Hy-Vee closed. It expanded in better neighborhoods and suburbs. There are many reasons why Hy-Vee is the sole grocery/liquor/florist/etc. in many towns. They drove out independent businesses.