Analysis: Walmart Heirs are the Least Charitable of America’s Richest Billionaires

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The Walmart heirs are donating very little of their growing $145 billion1 in wealth and lag far behind their peers at the top of The Forbes 400, according to a new analysis by the Walmart1Percent of charitable giving by America’s ten richest people between 2008 and 2013.

Rob, Jim, Alice, and Christy Walton currently hold positions 6 through 9 on The Forbes 400 and should easily place in the top ten once again when Forbes releases the 2014 update later this month.

The Waltons, who own and control Walmart and are the richest family in the country, receive approximately $8.6 million per day in Walmart dividends. Despite this incredible wealth, the Waltons contributed just $17.6 million to charity between 2008 and 2013, a little more than two days’ worth of their Walmart dividends. Over the same period, Warren Buffet contributed $8.4 billion to non-profit organizations – 477 times more than the Waltons combined. The least generous of the top ten, other than the Waltons, is the industrialist Charles Koch. Even he gave 11 times more than all four Waltons combined.

Table: Walton family giving lags well behind that of other richest Americans

These differences in giving are not correlated with disparities in wealth among the top ten billionaires. The Waltons contributed just .012% of their combined net worth. Rob Walton, the long-time chairman of Walmart, contributed just $10,000, about .00003% of his $35.2 billion net worth. Meanwhile, the top three givers in the group – Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Michael Bloomberg – each gave away between 9% and 12% of their net worth. The next three – Larry Ellison, and David and Charles Koch – each contributed at least .44% of their net worth.

The Waltons have a history of giving far less substantially than their peers and average Americans.

  • A report released by Walmart1Percent earlier this year found that the Waltons have contributed almost none of their own wealth to the Walton Family Foundation and use the Foundation to avoid an estimated $3 billion in estate taxes each year.3
  • None of the Waltons have signed The Giving Pledge, an initiative by Gates and Buffett to get the world’s billionaires to commit to giving away a majority of their wealth during their lifetime, or at their death.4 The top four givers on the Forbes list – Buffett, Gates, Bloomberg, and Ellison – have all signed the pledge. Only the Waltons and the Koch brothers have not.5
  • Since 2000, The Chronicle of Philanthropy has compiled an annual list of the top 50 American contributors to charitable organizations.6 None of the Walmart heirs discussed here has ever appeared on that list.

The Waltons, majority owners of Walmart, have been widely criticized as exemplars of, and contributors to, widening economic inequality in the United States (see here, here, and here).7  And while the family’s wealth compounds at an astonishing rate, most Walmart workers make less than $25,000 per year.8 Americans for Tax Fairness found recently that Walmart’s low wages force many Walmart workers to rely on food stamps and other public benefits, costing U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion annually.9


A note on the methodology used to conduct this analysis

The analysis reported here uses publicly available information to compare charitable contributions made from 2008 through 2013 by the individuals who occupy the top ten spots on Forbes’ “Richest People in America” list. Each of the individuals included in the analysis is associated with one or more private charitable foundations, which are required to report contribution data to the IRS on Form 990-PF. These reports provide the main source material for the analysis. A non-profit organization’s Form 990 is a public document, routinely available from a variety of sources, or by request from the IRS or the organization. However, to the extent that the individuals in question make undisclosed charitable contributions to other entities, this analysis may underestimate their charitable giving. We have confidence in the overall accuracy of our analysis based on a review of information published by the most reputable journalistic source on matters of philanthropic giving by the wealthy, The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

In order to calculate charitable contributions we first identified private charitable foundations associated with each of the individuals and tallied contributions from the individuals, as reported on the foundations’ annual IRS filings (Form 990-PF) for the years 2008 through 2012. The foundations included in the analysis are: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust (contributions from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett); The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation (contributions from Charles Koch); the David H. Koch Foundation (contributions from David Koch); the Howard G Buffett Foundation, The Sherwood Foundation, The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, and The  NoVo Foundation (contributions from Warren Buffett); The Bloomberg Family Foundation (contributions from Michael Bloomberg); and The Lawrence Ellison Foundation (contributions form Larry Ellison); and The Walton Family Foundation and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (contributions from the Waltons).

For 2013, the contribution data  are based on reporting by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and online databases maintained by The Chronicle.10 These sources yield the following findings for contributions during 2013, which have been included in the overall totals for each individual: Warren Buffett ($2.34 billion); Bill Gates ($181.3 million); David Koch ($101 million); Larry Ellison ($72.2 million); and Michael Bloomberg ($452 million).

Footnotes

1The Forbes 400: The Richest People in America,” Forbes (Retrieved September 5, 2014).
2The World’s Billionaires,” Forbes (Retrieved September 15, 2014).
3Report: Phony Philanthropy of the Walmart Heirs,” The Walmart1% (June 3, 2014).; Zachary R. Mider, “How Wal-Mart’s Waltons Maintain Their Billionaire Fortune,” Bloomberg (September 12, 2013).; Americans for Tax Fairness, “Walmart on Tax Day,” (April 2014).
4The Giving Pledge: FAQ” (Retrieved September 7, 2014).
5The Giving Plegde: Pledger Profiles,” (Retrieved September 7, 2014).
6 For the most recent list, see: “A Look at the 50 Most Generous Donors of 2013,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy (February 9, 2014).
7 Robert Reich, “What Walmart Could Learn from Henry Ford.” (November 16, 2013).; “How the Wal-Mart Heirs Got Their Wealth,” Moyers & Company (May 11, 2014).; Amy Traub, “Retail’s Choice: How raising wages and improving schedules for women in the retail industry would benefit America,” Demos (June 2014).
8 Sourcewatch, “Walmart,” (Retrieved September 8, 2014).
9 See footnote 3
10 Maria Di Mento, “How The Chronicle Compiled the Philanthropy 50 List,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy (February 9, 2014;“A Look at the 50 Most Generous Donors of 2013,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy (February 9, 2014).; America’s Top Donors, online database. The Chronicle of Philanthropy (retrieved May 27, 2014).

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