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.

How Long Did it Take the Waltons to Make Your Salary?

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Enter your salary below and then click “do the math” to see how long it took the Waltons to make your annual salary last year.



It took the Waltons minutes and seconds to make your annual salary.


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/

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)

Meet the 6 Walton Heirs at the top of the Walmart Empire

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Check out our new infographic on the Walton heirs who control Walmart. Please share widely!

An infographic describing the Wealth of the 6 Walton heirs who are the majority owners of Walmart.

Richest family in the U.S. now 25% richer

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Today, Forbes released its annual list of the 400 richest Americans. Not only can the Waltons still count themselves as the richest family in America, but their net worth rose 25% in the last six months. The six Waltons on the list—Christy, Alice, Jim, Rob, Ann, and Nancy—are worth a combined $144.7 billion, up $29 billion from the last Forbes tally in March. It’s as if the richest Waltons found a long-lost, equally affluent sibling.

#6: Christy Walton, $35.4b
#7: Jim Walton, $33.8b
#8: Alice Walton, $33.5b
#9: Rob Walton, $33.3b
#95: Ann Walton Kroenke, $4.7b
#110: Nancy Walton Laurie, $4b

Income inequality is continuing to set records, and the Waltons are emblematic of this trend. Just last week it was reported that the top 1% of U.S. earners took home 19.3% of household income last year. This is the highest proportion in a century; we have officially surpassed Great Depression-era levels of income concentration at the top. For the other 99% of Americans, household income went up a whopping 1% in 2012.

Walton wealth 2013The bulk of the Waltons’ wealth comes from their shares in Walmart. Siblings Rob, Jim, and Alice share ownership of just over half of Walmart stock. Dividends on those shares line the Waltons’ pockets every year. This fiscal year, Rob, Jim, and Alice (and the various entities that they control) will receive an estimated $3.1 billion in Walmart dividends.

Just don’t expect the Waltons to share that wealth. According to a recent Bloomberg story, 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. An accountant interviewed by Bloomberg estimated that just one of the Waltons’ twenty-one charitable trusts would result in $2.2 billion for Walton heirs. Closing the two types of loopholes the Waltons appear to use would return more than $20 billion to taxpayers over the next decade.

Walmart workers, on the other hand, are part of a growing chorus of low-wage workers speaking out for respect and better jobs. On September 5, Walmart associates and their supporters gathered in fifteen cities across the country, calling on Walmart to reinstate illegally fired and disciplined workers, publicly commit to improve jobs, and end the company’s aggressive violations of workers’ rights. According to the most recent data available, the six Waltons on the Forbes list have the same wealth as the bottom 42% of American families combined. Walmart associates, in comparison, have been risking arrest in their fight for $25,000 a year for full time work.

Walmart associates make an average of about $8.81 an hour, despite the company’s misleading claims to the contrary. Under Walmart’s definition of full-time work, this amounts to only about $15,500 annually. Meanwhile, the Waltons’ wealth is up 25% in just six months. Basically, in less than 10 seconds, the Waltons made what the average Walmart associate makes in a year. Think something’s wrong with that picture? Sign our petition here and look out for exciting opportunities to join in Walmart associates’ biggest actions yet this Black Friday.

The Waltons – Charity Begins at Home

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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.

Walmart Workers’ Protest Spotlights Taxpayers’ Dollars Supporting Rob Walton’s Excessive Lifestyle

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Rob Walton racing suitOver the weekend, Salinas Valley community supporters joined Walmart workers at a demonstration in front of the Laguna Seca Raceway in California during the annual Monterey Motorsports Reunion. The demonstration took place while Walmart Board Chair, and heir to the Walton family fortune, Rob Walton raced two of his multimillion dollar racecars worth more than $16 million. The purpose of the protest was to bring attention to the disturbing fact as well as the reality that Rob Walton and his familyengage in lavish and expensive hobbies while the family increases its wealth by pushing certain Walmart worker costs onto taxpayers.

“Last year, it took Rob just a second to wreck a rare 15 million dollar vintage car, but it would take 194 years for a Walmart employee working around the clock to earn 1 million dollars,” said Raymond Bravo, a member of OUR Walmart who was recently illegally fired from his job at Walmart for speaking out and going on strike. Raymond, who participated in the demonstration, told the Monterey County Herald that while he worked at Walmart earning a poverty wage he was “living on Top Ramen and fast food.”

Despite their enormous wealth, Rob Walton and Walmart rely on taxpayers to subsidize their low-road, low-wage approach to business.  Rob and the Walton family, who control the world’s largest private employer, have more wealth than the bottom 42% of American families combined. Walmart associates and Rob Walton's race carsThe Walton wealth according to a recent government report is subsidized in part by taxpayers.  The report issued in June describes how on average a single Walmart store costs taxpayers nearly $1 million in various government subsidies including food and rental assistance provided to Walmart workers to supplement the company’s poverty wages.

Post by Jorge Amaro.

Walmart’s board is losing its independence

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Rob WaltonFollowing Walmart’s annual meeting, the company’s board of directors is officially less independent than it was a few weeks ago.

Three independent directors have left the board and the Waltons own over half of the company’s stock, making the board less independent and opening the door to greater Walton control. Renee Dudley explains the implications in a recent Bloomberg story:

[Some] institutional investors are expressing concern that the founding family’s stake allows the chain to have a minority of independent directors. As a result of buybacks, the Waltons own at least 50.9 percent of outstanding shares, up from about 39 percent a decade ago. Under New York Stock Exchange rules, that makes Wal-Mart a controlled company, allowing it to opt out of a requirement to have a majority of independent directors.

Investors’ concern over growing Walton control is well-founded, given the multitude of problems the company faces: an alleged bribery scandal that top executives were aware of and grossly mishandled; mounting costs related to investigation of said bribery scandal; failing at Retail 101-level duties like keeping shelves stocked, earnings weakness, human rights disasters in the supply chain; and persistent strikes by workers in its U.S. stores.

Unfortunately, a less independent board is less likely to address these challenges, as an analyst interviewed by Dudley explains:

[A] less independent board could be less likely to push executives to assertively confront myriad challenges, said Robin Sherk, a New York-based analyst at consulting and research firm Kantar Retail.

“When it’s that closely held, they could end up doing less risk-taking and just care more about safe returns,” Sherk said.

Christopher WilliamsOn the other hand, the recent board election showed that shareholders are not entirely satisfied with Walmart’s governance: excluding the Walton family’s shares, more than 30% of shareholders voted against director Christopher Williams and CEO Mike Duke, while 25% voted against board chair Rob Walton. On top of that, 35% of non-Walton shareholders supported a proposal that would require an independent board chair.

Walmart says it has no plans to take advantage of its controlled-company status, but does it have any plans to effectively respond to shareholder dissention?

ADVISORY: Students, Teachers March From Closing Chicago School to Walmart Site

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MEDIA ADVISORY FOR

Tuesday, May 14th 2013

CONTACT

Nick Sifuentes, 310-866-1692, nick@berlinrosen.com

 

Students, Teachers, Education Advocates March From Closing School to Walmart Site

Marchers to Call Out Walton Family for Undermining Chicago Public School System

Majority of Chicago School Closures In Communities of Color, Low-Income Neighborhoods

Chicago, IL – On Tuesday, May 14th, over a hundred students, teachers, community leaders, education advocates and their supporters will march from Overton Elementary School (221 E. 49th St.) to a nearby construction site for a new Walmart store at 4701 S. Cottage Grove Ave. to protest the Walton family’s efforts to undermine Chicago’s public schools.

Marchers will gather at Overton Elementary School and proceed to the Walmart construction site, where they will hold a rally led by the Chicago Teachers’ Union. There, they will call on the Walton family to stop funding efforts to close Chicago’s public schools.

The Walton family, the richest family in America and heirs to the Walmart fortune, have given millions of dollars to initiatives which strip money from public schools, including nearly half a million dollars in support of Chicago Public Schools’ proposed school closures. Meanwhile, in 2012, the family spent $3.8 million—more money than they spent in any other city—opening new charter schools. The vast majority of the schools closing in Chicago serve low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, leaving many of these areas without local schools.

Walmart has eight stores in Chicago and two more under construction. Walmart workers earn low wages and benefits and often lack access to affordable, quality healthcare. Meanwhile, warehouse workers who supply Walmart goods have called on Walmart to require its contractors to guarantee safe workplaces and fair treatment. In addition, the company is notorious for finding ways to finance its operations on the backs of taxpayers; to help build new stores in Chicago, Walmart is leaning on a tax scheme that diverts money to developers and away from schools and other critical services.

WHO: Students, teachers, community leaders, local residents and education advocates

WHAT: March from Overton Elementary School to Walmart construction site in Bronzeville

WHEN: Overton Elementary: 4:00pm, Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Walmart site: 4:30pm, Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

WHERE: Overton Elementary School, 221 E. 49th St., to a nearby construction site for a new Walmart store at 4701 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

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.

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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