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

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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

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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.

Walmart Workers, Environmentalists Bring Search for Rob Walton to Beverly Hills Fundraiser

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1185672_10202219027971517_1980116518_nBeverly Hills, CA (March 13, 2013)–Members of OUR Walmart joined by community supporters protested outside a Conservation International cocktail event to call on Walmart Board Chair Rob Walton, who also serves as a key leader of Conservation International, to lead Walmart in creating good jobs and standing up for the environment.

The black-tie event, attended by Rob Walton’s close influential and affluent friends, took place at the upscale Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. While inside the hotel, Walmart workers hoped to speak to Rob Walton and deliver a petition signed by hundreds of supporters calling the Walton family and Walmart to listen to the concerns of its workers, provide good jobs, end its poverty wages, and to commit to fair labor standards.

Event attendees were also urged to join environmental justice groups and Walmart workers in questioning Conservation International’s green-washing of Walmart’s poor record on carbon emissions and the environment. Nearly a decade after launching its “sustainability” campaign and committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen by more than 14% and continue to rise.

Another year, another $33 Billion for the Waltons

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Once again, the Walton family figures prominently on the Forbes annual list of the world’s billionaires, which the magazine released online Monday. The Waltons, who inherited their controlling interest in Walmart, are the richest family in the United States.

We did some simple calculations with the Forbes data and came up with a few eye-popping Walton  statistics:

  • Combined net worth of the six Waltons on the list: $148.8 billion
  • One-year increase in the Waltons’ net worth: $33.1 billion
  • Daily increase in the Waltons’ net worth since Feb. 14, 2013: $90.9 Million
Rob and Melani Walton in a $12.1 million 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

Walmart Chairman Rob Walton takes his 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa for a spin. When Rob purchased this beauty in 2009 he paid a record $12.1 Million (and then tried to avoid paying import taxes).

And here are the Forbes rankings and net worth figures for the six Waltons, individually:

  • Christy Walton: #9 with $36.7 billion
    Christy Walton is the richest woman in the world
  • Jim Walton: #10 with $34.7 billion
    Jim is the CEO of Arvest Bank and a member of the Walmart board of directors
  • Alice Walton: #13 with $34.3 billion
  • Rob Walton: #14 with $34.2 billion
    Rob is the long-serving chairman of the Walmart board of directors
  • Ann Walton Kroenke: #305 with $4.8 billion
  • Nancy Walton Laurie: #367 with $4.1 billion

It should be noted that the Waltons’ enormous wealth has generated intense public debate in recent years. Critics point out that the Waltons continue to benefit from Walmart stock buybacks and to collect billions of dollars annually in dividends, while the company’s low wages force many employees to rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Click here to see the Walton entries for yourself at Forbes.

Sources:

Forbes 2014 Billionaires List (data as of Feb 12, 2014). Retrieved March 3, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/luisakroll/2014/03/03/inside-the-2014-forbes-billionaires-list-facts-and-figures/

Forbes 2013 Billionaires List (data as of February 14, 2013). Retrieved March 3, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/erincarlyle/2013/03/06/full-list-u-s-billionaires-of-2013/

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

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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?

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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

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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.

In pursuit of hurting public schools, Walton family funds far-right school operator

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A Slate report last week revealed that Responsive Education Solutions (RES), a charter school operator whose expansion into Arkansas is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, has close ties to far-right creationists and opponents of the separation of church and state.

The Walton Family Foundation, led by the moneyed heirs to Walmart co-founder Sam Walton, is one of the leading funders of the corporate education reform movement that aims to undermine public schools by expanding charter school and voucher programs that funnel public tax dollars to private schools.

Curriculum materials from Responsive Ed schools in Texas, obtained by Slate, show that RES schools have made a mockery of science education by teaching creationism and attempting to discredit evolution. Moreover, the RES history curriculum is riddled with racist, sexist, and homophobic cultural biases and outright factual errors.

Given the limited courtesy that RES schools apparently give to science or accuracy, it may be no surprise that the operator’s schools were identified as poor performers in a charter school study performed by CREDO, a pro-charter, Hoover Institution-affiliated think tank at Stanford University. Strikingly, CREDO and Hoover also receive funding from the Walton Family Foundation—so even Walton-backed organizations have identified problems with RES.

The Waltons ought not to be funding an organization that plays so fast and loose with the education of children, let alone praise it as “a highly successful charter organization,” as the Walton Family Foundation did last year in this press release.

But sadly, the Waltons’ relationship with the disaster that is RES just goes to show how far they will go in their pursuit of destabilizing and weakening public education.

The Waltons could buy Congress 32 times

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Slate reports that more than half of 534 current members of Congress are millionaires, according to a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics (CPR) (see here also).

That might explain why the federal minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 per hour – too many of our legislators just don’t understand what it means to by scrape by on poverty-level wages in today’s Walmart economy.

Members of Congress are doing a lot better, on average, than your typical American family. But how does our nation’s legislative branch stack up against the closest thing we have to an aristocracy – the Walton Family, majority owners of Walmart?

Using CPR data we estimate the average net worth of a member of Congress at $7.2 million. This year, the Waltons will take home $8.5 million in Walmart dividends every day – that’s $1.3 million more (every day!) than the average net worth of a member of the richest Congress in U.S. history.

What if we look at Congress as a whole?  Based on the same CPR data, we estimate the total net worth of the Congress at $4.5 billion. The Waltons, with their $144.7 billion fortune, are 32 times richer than the entire Congress.

Congress shouldn’t feel too bad, though. After all, the Waltons’ billions make them as wealthy as 42 percent of American households – combined.

Updated January 14, 2014

  • Included link to CPR blog post
  • Specified that the CPR study shows that more than half of 534 current members of Congress are millionaires (there are 535 members of Congress)

Walmart lobbied to avoid increased safety in Bangladesh

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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.

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.

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