For the Walton family, charity does, indeed, seem to begin at home.
Yesterday, Bloomberg released a feature detailing how the Waltons have become today’s Rockefellers, amassing the largest family fortune in the country at a time of extreme inequality and taking advantage of tax avoidance schemes to preserve it. Or, to quote Gawker’s headline, “The Waltons Are the Greediest Family in the World.”
The Waltons, as we know, have a climbing fortune currently worth about $115.7 billion. The United States is experiencing record-setting levels of inequality, and the Waltons are leading the way as the face of the 1%. They have more wealth—built on the backs of their underpaid workforce at Walmart—than the bottom 42% of American families combined.
Bloomberg reporter Zach Mider goes into detail about the tax loopholes available only to ultra-wealthy families like the Waltons, and how they use these tricks to avoid paying taxes on wealth passed down from generation to generation. He writes,
The Waltons’ example highlights how billionaires deftly bypass a tax intended to make sure that the nation’s wealthiest contribute their share to government rather than perpetuate dynastic wealth, a notion of fairness voiced by supporters of the estate tax like Warren Buffett and William Gates Sr.
The Waltons are America’s biggest users of a particular type of charitable trust that actually allows the donor to pass money on to heirs after an extended period of time, without having to pay the much-debated estate tax. Mider explains, “A donor locks up assets in these trusts, formally known as charitable lead annuity trusts, or CLATs, for a period of time, say 20 or 30 years. An amount set by the donor is given away each year to charity. Whatever is left at the end goes to a beneficiary, usually the donor’s heirs, without any tax bill.”
Of course, most Americans aren’t in a position to keep their money out of reach for decades at a time. And for that matter, most Americans aren’t in a position to owe estate taxes either. The Waltons, though, are exactly the type of people who would normally pay estate taxes and exactly the ones who are trying time and again to avoid it. An accountant interviewed in the Bloomberg story estimated that just one of the Waltons’ twenty-one charitable trusts would result in $2.2 billion for Walton heirs. According to Treasury Department estimates, closing the two loopholes the Waltons seem to use would raise more than $20 billion over the next decade.
If there was any question about who is the face of income inequality in America, Bloomberg just answered it.