Supreme Court opens the flood gates to even more Walton money in politics

Share Button

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down certain limits on individuals’ federal campaign contributions, with a ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. The Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the cap on the aggregate amount that an individual can give directly to candidates for federal office, federal political action committees, and federal party committees.

The McCutcheon decision opens the door to dramatically increased federal election spending by wealthy, politically-motivated donors like the Waltons. A report from Demos and U.S. PIRG found that without an individual limit on campaign spending, more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from a small segment of elite donors is likely to come in through the 2020 election cycle.

With some of the deepest pockets in America, members of the Walton family have brushed up against the individual aggregate limit year after year. And the Waltons’ political priorities are well-documented. Their contributions further a personal, ideological agenda that is anti-woman, anti-environment, anti-minimum wage, and pro-gun.

Individual Walton federal contributions by year

2012

2010

2008

Individual aggregate limit

$117,000

$115,500

$108,200

Jim Walton

$112,000

$114,900

$107,300

Lynne Walton

$105,800

$111,500

$107,100

Alice Walton

$78,300

$93,900

$104,900


Analysis of data from
FEC.gov and Open Secrets

Already, a small group of donors has major influence on the political process. The Sunlight Foundation reports, “More than a quarter of the nearly $6 billion in contributions from identifiable sources in the last campaign cycle came from just 31,385 individuals, a number equal to one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population…the 1% of the 1%.” In 2012, no member of the House or Senate won election without help from this group. And this small group includes some familiar names: Alice, Christy, Jim, Lynne, Rob, Tillie, and Sam R. Walton are all part of this 1% of 1%.

Federal law had set caps on the total amount individuals could contribute to all candidates as well as the total amount that individuals could give to PACs and parties. For the 2011-2012 election cycle, the caps were $46,200 to all candidates and $70,800 to all PACs and parties, which added up to an aggregate limit of $117,000, more than twice the annual income of the average American household. Without those limits, extremely wealthy donors like the Waltons will be able to spend upwards of $3.5 million every election cycle—not including super PAC contributions!—to influence the democratic process.

In 2012, over half of the contributions from Jim Walton and his wife Lynne went to two Republican committees: the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($30,800 apiece, the 2012 maximum contribution to party a committee) and the National Republican Congressional Committee ($30,400 each). Without an aggregate limit on individual contributions, the Waltons could hypothetically write many more $30,000+ checks to other national party committees in the current cycle. They’ve already gotten started: in March 2013, Jim and Lynne each wrote $30,800 checks to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. At $123,200, Jim and Lynne Walton have given more money to the Republican party this cycle than Charles and David Koch.

Walmart CEO Acknowledges Lack of Opportunities for Workers

Share Button

This article was originally posted by the Retail Justice Alliance.

Walmart-Opportunity-300x300A recent AP article by Josh Boak finds that Walmart—our country’s largest employer—does not provide its employees with enough opportunities for professional advancement or a pathway to a middle class life. As a result of the Great Recession, many older and more educated workers are turning to the retail giant as a way to support their families. And despite the retail giant’s self-promotion as a source for professional opportunity, Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., suggests that workers look elsewhere if they want to make more money and have access to better benefits.

“Some people took those jobs because they were the only ones available and haven’t been able to figure out how to move out of that,” Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press.

If Walmart employees “can go to another company and another job and make more money and develop, they’ll be better,” Simon explained. “It’ll be better for the economy. It’ll be better for us as a business, to be quite honest, because they’ll continue to advance in their economic life.”

Walmart’s sheer scale in size means that its low-wage, part-time business practices have an enormous impact on our country’s labor, business, and employment climate, and the company’s profits before people business strategy has influenced other retailers to do the same. That’s why Walmart workers across the country are taking the lead in the fight to change the way the retail giant does business.

Since its inception, former and current Walmart workers who are members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) have called on the retailer to publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours so that no worker at Walmart makes less than $25,000 per year. OUR Walmart members have also asked the retailer to stop its practice of retaliating against workers who are simply exercising their right to speak out for a better life and improved working conditions.

Too many Walmart workers like Joanna Lopez are struggling to survive on low wages with insufficient hours and are relying on taxpayer funded programs like food stamps to make ends meet.

Simon’s suggestion that many Walmart employees might be better off leaving for other jobs surprised Wal-Mart cashier Joanna Lopez. A 26-year-old single mother, she owns no car and lives with her church pastor near Fremont, Calif. She collects food stamps and receives insurance through California’s version of Medicaid.

Lopez started at Wal-Mart as a temp in August 2011, after being unable to land a hospital job with her associate’s degree. Her pay has risen from $8 an hour to $9.20, after she moved from part time to full time. The suggestion by a Wal-Mart executive that some employees might be staying too long offended her.

“To me, that’s an utter humiliation,” Lopez said. “How can you sit there and have management say that we should find other jobs because this place is ‘no bueno?’”

As the largest retail employer in the country, Walmart can and should lead the way in making sure that retail jobs are good jobs—the kind that come with good benefits and wages for all workers. If Walmart would listen to—and respect—its workers, it could help to rebuild our country’s economy and strengthen America’s middle class.

Is Walmart “neutral” on the minimum wage in its lobbying meetings too?

Share Button

Walmart spokesperson David Tovar told Bloomberg this week that Walmart was “looking at” its position on the proposed federal minimum wage hike. A different company spokesperson quickly corrected the story, telling Reuters that Walmart’s position hadn’t changed at all and that the company remains “neutral” on the issue. Of course, two of the major business groups connected to Walmart—the National Retail Federation and the Chamber of Commerce—have voiced strong opposition to the measure, but Walmart maintains that it’s neutral, and Walmart and the Waltons’ history of political giving shows a preference for politicians who vote against raising the minimum wage.

Over at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog today, Lydia DePillis adds some interesting insight into Walmart’s activities on the issue, noting that the company reported lobbying on the minimum wage proposal in the fourth quarter of 2013 (reports for the start of 2014 haven’t been filed yet):

And yet, lobbying disclosure reports suggest that [Walmart] might have made up its mind as recently as the end of last year: Its $1,950,000 bill for in-house government relations in the fourth quarter includes a line about “Discussions regarding minimum wage and the Fair Minimum Wage Act (S. 460),” which would raise the wage to $10.10 over two years. That appears to be the first time the company has lobbied on the issue in several years — earlier reports don’t have a field for issues lobbied — and forms for the 10 outside firms it employed during the quarter don’t mention it.

Maybe Walmart does have a stance on raising the minimum wage after all.

The State Representative from…Walmart?

Share Button

City officials in Green Bay, WI, are fighting a proposed Walmart in the city’s historic Broadway district, but one state lawmaker has voiced a different opinion. State Representative John Klenke has said this week that he will ask the state’s Building Commission to reconsider $2 million set aside for the expansion of the city’s convention center if the city blocks the Walmart opening.

Alice WaltonRep. Klenke, a Republican representing parts of Green Bay and surrounding areas in the state house, has some powerful friends. As Fox 11 notes, Klenke has received campaign contributions from several members of Walmart’s Walton family. According to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Alice, Christy, Jim, and Lynne Walton have each made contributions to Klenke since 2010. In fact, the Waltons are no stranger to Wisconsin state legislative races. Despite the fact that none of them live in Wisconsin, six Waltons were among the top fifteen political donors in Wisconsin state legislative races from 2009-2010, the cycle that brought Republicans to power in the state.

Green Bay’s Mayor Jim Schmitt and members of the public are opposed to Walmart opening in the city’s historic Broadway district. Yet Klenke, who was reportedly previously in favor of the state funding for Green Bay’s convention center expansion, told Fox 11 this week, “If you’re not going to help yourself then why should we help you?” It’s a surprising exertion of government control from a legislator associated with the Tea Party.

It looks like the Waltons’ political contributions continue to pay off.

The (Not So) New Face of Walmart

Share Button

Doug McMillonTomorrow, Doug McMillon will become the fifth CEO of Walmart and the youngest to have the job since Sam Walton himself. Before him will be the monumental task of steering the retail giant back on course and into public favor.

An Arkansas native and life-long Walmart employee, McMillon is considered a company insider and Walton family favorite. Analysts have widely approved of his promotion, given his extensive knowledge of the company.

McMillon famously began working for Walmart as a teenager in 1984, in a distribution center position. In 1990, while he was in business school at the University of Tulsa, he rejoined the company as a buyer trainee in sporting goods. He worked his way up and between 1998 and 1999, McMillon was a vice president and general merchandise manager for Sam’s Club stores, after which he was promoted to senior vice president and general merchandise manager for Walmart Stores, Inc. In September 2002, McMillon became executive vice president and chief merchant for Sam’s Club. He was named to lead Sam’s Club in August 2005, a position he held until February 2009, when he became president and CEO of Walmart International. McMillon is now on the Board of Directors for Walmart de Mexico and the U.S.-China Business Council.

McMillon’s biography indicates that he may be the right person to return Walmart to its founding values and build a culture of respect in the company where hard work is again rewarded.  Walmart workers will anxiously welcome him, as they wait to see if he continues on the status quo set forth under CEO Mike Duke or takes the company in a new and better direction.

Walmart lobbied to avoid increased safety in Bangladesh

Share Button

Politico broke the news earlier this week that Walmart hired lobbyists to fight a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have cost the company business. Walmart has refused to sign the binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, in favor of a voluntary alliance it formed with Gap and other retailers. From Politico:

Retail giant Wal-Mart hired Porter Gordon Silver Communications to work on successfully stripping a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act in December, according to public disclosures released Tuesday. Several members of Congress had championed a worker-safety provision in the annual defense spending bill that would have given procurement priority to companies that signed onto a legally binding Bangladesh workers’ safety agreement called the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Retailers like Wal-Mart and Gap have declined to sign on, and Wal-Mart unveiled its own nonbinding safety plan in May of last year for workers at its Bangladeshi factories. In practice, the provision would have cost Wal-Mart and other retailers not part of the accord a good deal of money — as their products would have suffered at retail stores on military bases as a result of procurement priority given to Accord members.

The Huffington Post describes the intentions behind the NDAA’s ethical sourcing provision:

In the eyes of its crafters, the amendment had a simple underlying message: Markets sanctioned and supported by the U.S. government should be shut off from sweatshop labor…

If passed, the amendment on military exchanges would have been an embarrassment to the alliance, since Congress would have essentially endorsed the accord as a stronger approach to improving safety in Bangladesh. It also would have pressured companies whose clothes are sold in the exchanges to consider joining the accord or face losing business. Alliance leaders asked senators to either insert language putting them on equal footing with the accord or to strip out the accord altogether.

Between December 2012 and May 2013, nearly 1,200 Bangladeshi garment workers were killed in preventable factory fires and building collapses while producing goods mostly for U.S. and European markets. Walmart has responded to the tragedies by refusing to sign the broadly supported Bangladesh Safety Accord and instead proposed its own alternative. In contrast with the accord, Walmart’s plan is a voluntary arrangement without any meaningful enforcement mechanisms, developed without consultation with workers.

In the case of the NDAA, Walmart’s lobbyists were able to help the company again avoid being held accountable for increased safety in the Bangladeshi factories producing goods for the company.

Revealed: Walmart and the NSA are both tracking consumers

Share Button

online privacy2Two weeks ago, we wrote about a new report raising concern about Walmart’s consumer data collection. The report, “Consumers, Big Data, and Online Tracking in the Retail Industry,” estimated that Walmart had collected the personal data of more than 145 million Americans, and technical analysis found that Walmart shared consumer data with more than 50 third party companies.

In addition to concerns about how big data is used to profile consumers without their consent, the report sounded the alarm about consumer data being used by government and law enforcement agencies.

The latest revelations about the NSA in yesterday’s Washington Post validated those warnings. The reporters explain, “According to the documents, the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, are using the small tracking files or “cookies” that advertising networks place on computers to identify people browsing the Internet.” One Google cookie in particular “allows NSA to single out an individual’s communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person’s computer.”

In addition, the NSA is using location information gathered by apps to help it locate mobile devices. According to the report about Walmart, the company’s apps and website collect geolocation information, as do Walmart’s in-store wifi networks.

Ultimately, the latest leaked NSA documents make it even clearer that corporate spying and government surveillance aren’t two separate issues. As privacy expert Ed Felten told the Washington Post:

“This shows a link between the sort of tracking that’s done by Web sites for analytics and advertising and NSA exploitation activities,” says Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton University. “By allowing themselves to be tracked for analytic or advertising at least some users are making themselves more vulnerable to exploitation.”

Aida Alvarez participates in corporate astroturfing in California

Share Button

AlvarezAT&T customers in California have experienced dramatic increases in the cost of landline service with the state’s largest local phone company in recent years. Following deregulation of most landline services in California in 2006, the flat rate for a landline is up from $10.69/month in 2006 to $23/month earlier this year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And fees for some other services have risen even faster. Republican Rachelle Chong, who at the time was a California Public Utilities Commissioner, was credited as the driving force behind the plan to deregulate.

A recent post from the blog Stop the Cap! follows the money behind the scenes of Commissioner Chong’s unsuccessful fight to be reappointed to the commission in 2009, in the midst of rising phone costs post-deregulation. They find that many of the organizations supporting Chong had ties to industry groups:

AT&T even turned out…non-profit groups that showered the legislature with letters supporting her reappointment, without bothering to disclose AT&T had made substantial direct or indirect contributions to the groups in the past.

This list includes Walmart director Aida Alvarez. In her capacity as chair of the Latino Community Foundation (LCF), Alvarez sent a letter supporting Chong. What she didn’t mention is that her organization received a $25,000 grant from a nonprofit funded entirely by AT&T and Verizon.

Another Chong supporter later told the LA Times that “he’d endorsed her at the suggestion of executives at AT&T, which has given his group money.”

It appears that Aida Alvarez was a participant in the same kind of astroturfing Walmart has engaged in as it tries to break into urban markets around the U.S.

Walmart’s data collection comes to light: the company has info on an estimated 145 million Americans

Share Button

According to a Huffington Post story yesterday, a new report is out just in time for Cyber Monday, examining the ways that Walmart and other retailers track consumers online. Released by the Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange, and SumOfUs, the report is the first independent analysis of Walmart’s efforts to gather and track consumer information online and use that information to shape marketing strategies.

While desperately playing catch up to Amazon in online sales, Walmart executives have been bragging to investors about the company’s ability to compile data about consumers. In September, Walmart U.S. CEO (for now) Bill Simon said of the information from the Sam’s Club membership program (emphasis our own):

If you take that data and you correlate it with traceable tender that exists in Wal-Mart Stores and then the identified data that comes through Walmart.com and then the trend data that comes through the rest of the business and working with our suppliers, our ability to pull data together is unmatched.

The report, “Consumers, Big Data, and Online Tracking in the Retail Industry,” finds that Walmart invades the online privacy of its consumers easily, secretly, and without accountability. In fact, Walmart could have the personal data of more than 145 million Americans, and the report’s technical analysis found that Walmart shares that data with more than 50 third party companies, a fact that is largely obscured by the company’s 4,500-word privacy policy.

A spokesperson for Walmart defended its practices and essentially confirmed the report’s findings at the same time, telling the Huffington Post that Walmart “mostly uses customer data and passes it along to third-party sites in aggregate rather than individually.” That comment does nothing to assuage concerns about profiling and discrimination raised in the report.

Not only are consumers likely unaware of the extent to which information about them is being compiled by Walmart and other retailers, but the report identifies at least one possible harmful side effect of this collection:

Essentially, as companies like Walmart increasingly use data, both real and predicted, to put people into categories, the risk grows that some groups will fall disproportionately into categories which receive less favorable treatment.

This scenario has already begun playing out. Last year, the Wall Street Journal examined web pricing at different retailers and found that a particular stapler was being sold at different prices to online shoppers, seemingly depending on their physical proximity to Staples’ competitors. However, those locations that saw lower prices online were generally higher income areas than the ones that saw higher prices. This system of targeting consumers based on data collected about them is far from transparent and its effects can be counter to the level playing field we’ve come to expect from the Internet.

To that end, the report’s authors call on Walmart and other retailers to offer transparency, choices, and fairness for all consumers in the use of these technologies. Stay in touch with the Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange, and SumOfUs as they call for change at Walmart and other retailers.

Nine Ways Walmart’s Ruling Family Is Funding a Far-Right Agenda

Share Button

The list Buzzfeed doesn’t want you to see
We originally posted this story on Buzzfeed, but without notifying us they took it down yesterday, claiming it was a “personal attack.” We don’t think that sharing factual information about the Waltons’ agenda is a personal attack – it’s just the truth that people deserve to know.

 

A brief guide to the political activities of the Walton family, the majority owners of Walmart. After all, they have enough money to fill a large backyard pool with solid gold.

They’re ruining public schools.

Since 2005, the family has dropped over $1 billion[1] to destroy public schools and treat K-12 education like venture capitalism. They’ve given to myriad voucher, charter school, and corporate education reform advocacy organizations, including the Milton Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice;  union-buster Stand for Children; and Michelle Rhee’s pro-privatization, pro-high stakes testing organization, Students First. Basically, they’ve appointed themselves to make decisions about education because they are rich as hell. Never mind that their pro-privatization approach doesn’t work, and never mind that ending poverty—like maybe among Walmart’s 1.4 million low-wage workers?—would do more than anything else to make kids’ lives and school outcomes better. Plus? Several groups they’ve doled out money to are plagued with scandal.

 

They love haters.

Why

The Waltons use their billions to fund haters like Jason Rapert – the Arkansas legislator who opposes gay adoption, wants to mandate vaginal probes for women seeking an abortion, and still suggests that President Obama was born in Kenya. Rapert’s no anomaly. From 1990 to 2012, 84% of Walton family spending on Congressional races went to candidates with a ZERO (out of 100) rating on women’s issues from the American Association of University Women.

In 2012, Jim Walton contributed $500 to the re-election campaign of Loy Mauch, an Arkansas state legislator who has called the Confederate flag a “symbol of Jesus Christ” and acknowledged membership in the “neo-confederate” secessionist group known as League of the South. It wasn’t until Mauch’s views and Walton’s contribution made headlines that Jim Walton asked that the contribution be returned.

 

They helped create the shutdown.

Since the 2004 election cycle, Walmart has given over $1.5 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, the group that helped the GOP secure control over the redistricting process before the 2012 elections. That year, Republicans took 54% of House seats despite winning only 45% of the popular vote, enabling them to grind the government to a halt, even without the support of most Americans.

 

They contributed to the rise of Scott Walker and his cronies in Wisconsin.

From 2009-2010, the election cycle that brought Republicans to power in Wisconsin, Alice Walton was the top individual donor to Wisconsin legislators according to WisconsinWatch.org. Alice and five other Waltons were among the top fifteen political donors in Wisconsin legislative races during that election cycle. Since 2010, the Waltons have given $55,000 to Scott Walker, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The legislative victories they contributed to, combined with the family foundation’s multi-million dollar efforts to fund experiments in school choice in the state, serve as a multi-pronged approach to further their conservative agenda.

 

They tried to prevent gay families from adopting.

478

Walmart heir and board member Jim Walton gave $75,000 to Arkansas’s Family Council Action Committee in 2008. At the time, the group was backing a ballot initiative that would prevent gay and lesbian families from serving as adoptive or foster families. Jim Walton’s contribution was equal to 55% of the group’s political spending that year. The measure passed, but the Arkansas Supreme Court struck it down last year.

 

They push their right-wing vision through ALEC.

(With apologies to Alec Baldwin) The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is infamous for promoting legislation that advances a conservative ideological agenda and benefits its members at the expense of everyone else. The organization developed and promoted anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070. It has also been an ardent supporter of the privatization of education, voter-ID laws–which distort our democracy by making it harder for low-income people and people of color to vote–and is becoming increasingly known for having developed the “Stand Your Ground” law that became notorious following the killing of Trayvon Martin. Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation were listed side by side as chairman-level sponsors of the conservative group’s annual meeting in August 2011. Following public pressure last spring, Walmart withdrew from the controversial organization, but the Walton Family Foundation has yet to publicly sever ties with ALEC.

 

They spend their money on the NRA’s top politicians.

Walmart is nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition. Between the 2010 and 2012 federal election cycles, Walmart’s PAC gave nearly $1 million to candidates endorsed by the NRA. The Waltons gave another half a million to NRA-endorsed federal politicians over that time period, including super PAC funds. In fact, among politicians with 2012 grades from the NRA, 84% of the Waltons’ 2010-2012 cycle contributions went to candidates with scores between A+ and A-.

 

They make super contributions to super PACs.

Mitt-Romney-Laughing

The Waltons gave almost $900,000 to super PACs in the 2012 cycle. Of that, $400,000 went to Restore Our Future, the super PAC associated with Mitt Romney. As of last June, there were only 356 donors—including Jim and Alice Walton—who had given over $100,000 to super PACs…because most of us don’t have that kind of money to spend on our personal agendas.

 

They lobbied to avoid paying their fair share.

715

During George W. Bush’s presidency, the Waltons and a host of other wealthy families worked to repeal the estate tax and save a ton on taxes. They hired a lobbyist and contributed heavily to politicians who were on their side, in order to save a fortune from beyond the grave. As a recent feature in Bloomberg confirmed, the Waltons continue to use creative mechanisms to skip out on their bill from American taxpayers.


[1] Based on: 1) Reports of grant funding in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 on the Walton Family Foundation website (and archived versions of the website from the Internet Archive, http://www.archive.org), and 2) A review of donations to candidates for school board positions, education PACs, and charter school ballot initiatives, obtained from campaign finance databases in the following states: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Legal Disclaimer: UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees. Judges have preliminarily enjoined non-Associates who are part of the UFCW International or OUR Walmart from entering Walmart property in Arkansas (read the order here), Florida (read the order here), and Maryland (read the order here). A California judge has enjoined non-associate agents of the UFCW and OUR Walmart from engaging in certain activities inside CA Walmart stores. Click here for a copy of the order.

© 2012 Making Change at Walmart