Distorting Our Democracy

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1. Overview of federal political contributions
2. 2012 super PAC spending
3. State and local political contributions
4. Influencing policy through the American Legislative Exchange Council
5. Issue-specific analysis
6. Support of extremist candidates
7. Privatizing education through philanthropy

 

1. From the 2000 election cycle through the 2012 cycle, the Waltons and the Walmart PAC spent nearly $17 million in federal elections. More than $11.6 million went to GOP candidates and committees.[1]

Together, the Waltons and the Walmart PAC have given more than $11.6 million—69% of their contributions—to Republican candidates and committees. In contrast, they have given less than a half of that amount to Democrats.

Over this time period 83% of the Waltons’ contributions went to Republicans, including their contributions to super PACs.

2. The Waltons gave nearly a million dollars to super PACs during the 2012 cycle, much of it in support of Romney.[2]

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. Alice Walton and Jim Walton each gave the PAC $200,000.

With some of the deepest pockets in America, the Waltons are distorting our democracy and contributing to a political system where the strength of voters’ voices is relative to the size of their wallets, not the number of ballots cast.

As of June 30, 2012 there were 220 active super PACs, which have raised more than $312 million for the 2012 election. Most of the contributions to super PACs have come from individuals, not corporations. Individuals had given $230 million to super PACs as of the end of June.

In fact, there were only 356 donors—including Jim and Alice Walton—who had given over $100,000 to super PACs. Contributions of over $100,000 from individuals made up 63% of all super PAC contributions.

Only 0.01% of Americans give more than $10,000 to Congressional campaigns in any election cycle. Jim, Lynne, Alice, and Samuel R. Walton each crossed this threshold during the 2012 cycle. When all federal giving is included, each of those four Waltons contributed over $100,000 during the 2012 cycle.

3. The Waltons represent quintessential out-of-state special interests

Since 2000, members of the Walton family have spent at least $24 million dollars funding politicians, political action committees, and ballot issues at the state and local level that favor their corporate approach to school reform.[3] At local levels of government, where fundraising totals are smaller than those at the federal level, Walton largesse can go a very long way toward shaping public policy.

  • 2012 charter school ballot initiatives

In November 2012, residents of Washington State voted on I-1240, an initiative that would essentially permit charter schools in Washington, which currently doesn’t accommodate them, and that included a fairly aggressive “parent trigger” clause. The signature filing deadline was July 6, 2012; five days later, Alice Walton—who lives in Texas, not the Pacific Northwest—gave $600,000 to the pro-charter school committee. By Election Day, she had given a total of $1.7 million and become the cause’s second largest donor. Similar initiatives had already been rejected by Washington voters three times since the ‘90s. In fact, in 2004, John Walton was the biggest contributor to that year’s failed charter school initiative, giving over $1 million. This year, the measure—nicknamed “the billionaires’ initiative” because of massive financial support from Walton and other colossally wealthy donors like Bill Gates—passed with 50.69% of the vote. Alice Walton contributed another $600,000 in support of a constitutional amendment in Georgia allowing the establishment of charter schools. The measure passed.

  • Millions for school voucher advocacy

Since 2003, the Waltons have given a staggering $19.1 million dollars to the American Federation for Children, its state affiliates, and its predecessor organization.[4] AFC, where Walton family member Carrie Walton Penner is a board member, is a school voucher advocacy organization led by Betsy DeVos of Michigan’s ultra-conservative billionaire DeVos family. Her family (which includes her brother, Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private military contractor Academi, formerly known as Blackwater and Xe) is a fixture in right-wing circles, helping fund organizations like the anti-gay Family Research Council and bankrolling Republican electoral campaigns.

  • Wisconsin 2010

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. 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.

The Waltons have spent $2.9 million in state-level politics in California over the past two decades, far more than in any other state. In 2006, Bay Area resident Greg Penner helped oppose an early childhood education initiative that would have increased taxes on the wealthy:

  • 2006 California early childhood education initiative

The Waltons contributed to the defeat of one of the largest early childhood education initiatives in state history. In 2006, Greg Penner, Walmart board member and son-in-law of S. Robson Walton, contributed $250,000 to “No on 82.” The so-called “Reiner Initiative” — named after its sponsor, actor and director Rob Reiner—sought to establish a universal preschool system in California for four-year-olds by placing an additional income tax on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, and couples making in excess of $800,000.

The Waltons are also attempting to stack the deck in favor of their preferred candidates in local political races—specifically those for school superintendent and school board, which typically get less attention and fewer campaign dollars but are critical in setting education policy. For example:

  • Louisiana: In 2011, Greg Penner and Carrie Walton Penner each gave $5,000 to Kira Orange Jones, a candidate for the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Orange Jones, the Teach for America head in New Orleans, is said to have “[run] as the embodiment of post-Katrina reform efforts in New Orleans”— efforts that have focused on charter schools and school privatization. In October 2012, Penner gave $2,500 to Sarah Newell Usdin, who successfully ran for the New Orleans school board. Usdin runs a New Orleans-based corporate education reform non-profit. The Walton Family Foundation gave Usdin’s organization, New Schools for New Orleans, $1.2 million in 2012.
  • Indiana: In July 2012, Alice Walton gave $200,000 to state superintendent candidate Tony Bennett, who backs vouchers, charters, teacher merit pay, and high-stakes testing. Three months later, Greg Penner gave $5,000 to a candidate for the Indianapolis school board.
  • New Jersey: In Fall 2012, Greg Penner gave $8,000 to a political committee supporting a slate of candidates for the Perth Amboy, NJ school board

4. Influencing policy through the right-wing 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 death 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. A chairman sponsorship cost $50,000 in 2010. Following public pressure last spring, Walmart withdrew from the controversial organization. Until then, Walmart’s then-VP of Public Affairs, Maggie Sans, was the secretary of ALEC’s private enterprise board. And Walmart executive Janet Scott was the co-chair of ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force in 2005, when the task force approved the model language for “Stand Your Ground” laws. The Walton Family Foundation has yet to publicly sever ties with ALEC, however.

The Waltons and Walmart would reap financial benefits from excessively punitive ALEC-backed bills—like one that establishes additional regulations on swap meets and flea markets, making it harder for those small sellers to compete with retailers like Walmart, or another that would make it a felony to steal from three separate retailers, no matter how little the stolen merchandise might be worth, or yet another that creates harsher penalties for thieves who leave stores through the emergency exit door.

We also now know that Walmart and the Waltons have supported politicians with close ties to ALEC. A Walmart 1 Percent analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and FollowTheMoney.org reveals that, since 1990, Walmart’s PAC and the Waltons have given more than $1 million to politicians who have been board members or state chairs of ALEC. From 2006-2010 alone, they gave more than $500,000 to the campaigns of ALEC alumni currently serving in Congress. Although these politicians comprised less than 2% of the candidates during that period, they have received almost 12% of Walmart and the Waltons’ total contributions in Congressional races during the last three cycles.

5. The Waltons and the Walmart PAC have a long history of giving to politicians who vote the wrong way on issues that matter to Americans.

  • Environment: Among federal candidates with scores from the League of Conservation Voters, 82% of the Walton family’s contributions from 2005-2012 went to candidates with scores of 25 or lower (out of 100) for the 112th Congress. Likewise, 52% of the Walmart PAC’s contributions went to candidates with scores of 25 and below.
  • Civil rights: Among candidates with scores on the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights scorecard, 85% of the Waltons’ contributions from 2005-2012 went to candidates with scores from 0 to 25 (out of 100) on civil rights. About half of the Walmart PAC’s contributions went to candidates with scores 25 and lower.
  • Immigration: Among candidates with scores on the William C. Velasquez Institute’s Immigrant Justice scorecard, 58% of the Waltons’ contributions from 2005-2012 went to candidates with scores from 0 to 25 (out of 100) on immigration. Similarly, 52% of the Walmart PAC’s contributions went to candidates with scores 25 and lower.
  • LGBT equality: Among members of Congress ranked on the Human Rights Campaign’s scorecard for the 112th Congress, the overwhelming majority of the Waltons’ campaign contributions from 2005 to 2012—94%—went to those who oppose or are silent on marriage equality. The Walmart PAC doesn’t fare much better—77% of its contributions went to those who oppose or are silent on marriage equality. Additionally, in 2008, Jim Walton gave $75,000 to Arkansas’s Family Council Action Committee. At the time, the organization was supporting a ballot initiative it had sponsored that would prevent gay and lesbian families from serving as adoptive or foster families. Mr. Walton’s contributions came to more than 55% of all money given to support this initiative.
  • Women: Among candidates with scores on the American Association of University Women scorecard, 85% of the Waltons’ contributions from 2005-2012 went to candidates with scores of 25 and below (out of 100) on women’s issues. Fifty-three percent of the Walmart PAC’s contributions went to candidates with those scores.
  • Economic issues: From the 2000 election cycle through June 2014, 69% of the Walmart PAC’s political contributions and 82% of the Waltons’ contributions to Senators voting on the Paycheck Fairness Act in April 2014 went to those who blocked it. Similarly, 63% of the Walmart PAC’s contributions and 97% of the Waltons’ went to House members who voted against raising the minimum wage to $10.10. From the 2000 cycle through June 2014, the Walmart PAC gave more than $2.5 million to House members who opposed increasing the minimum wage. Over the same time period, 97% of the Waltons’ contributions to current members of the House went to those who voted to cut food stamp benefits, despite the fact that Walmart collects billions in food stamp sales annually.
  • Gun control: While Walmart’s role as the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition has been widely reported, their role in supporting a pro-gun political agenda has not been widely understood. From 2005 through 2012, the Walmart PAC gave nearly $1.7 million to candidates endorsed by the NRA, based on our analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and NRA Political Victory Fund grades and endorsements. The Waltons gave another half a million to NRA-endorsed federal politicians over that time period, including super PAC funds. Among candidates with scores from the NRA, the majority of the Walmart PAC and Waltons’ contributions—59%—went to those endorsed by the pro-gun lobby.

6. The Waltons contribute to extremist candidates, especially ones who further their education agenda.

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. After Mauch’s views and Walton’s contribution made headlines, Jim Walton asked that the contribution be returned. In his letter to Mauch, Walton wrote, “The contribution was made because of your support for education reform in Arkansas. Since making the contribution, however, I have learned about some of your views on other issues with which I disagree.”

However, Mauch’s views on education are pretty extreme as well. For example, Mauch wrote in a letter to the editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2006, “Public education was forced upon the South during Reconstruction to complete the aim of the radical socialists, which was to destroy Southern conservatism.”

Jim Walton and his wife Lynne have contributed $3,000 to extremist Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert (R-Conway) since December 2010, according to financial reports filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State.

Rapert has faced public scrutiny recently for his anti-gay and anti-choice positions – and for using racially-tinged language to attack President Obama at a rally in 2011. Rapert invited national scrutiny last week by pushing radical anti-choice legislation through the Arkansas State Senate. Rapert’s bill could effectively outlaw abortions after six weeks and force women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to submit to a vaginal probe. Rapert proudly declares himself a birther and attacks the state Supreme Court for knocking down a ban on gay adoptions.

7. How much money is the Walton Family Foundation spending to shape the school choices you have?

The Waltons never shy away from an opportunity to use their inherited fortune to influence politics and pursue right-wing political goals. The same holds true of their goal to undermine public education: In recent years, the family has dropped more than $1 billion toward efforts to “infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system.” Never mind that this money is mostly in states where no Walton family members live or have children in school, or that there’s an obvious argument to make that competitive market principles don’t apply to education, or that allowing the 1% of our society to dictate public policy matters like education by slinging around their wealth is profoundly anti-democratic.

The Waltons are funding the corporate education reform movement in two ways: through the Walton Family Foundation and through local-level political donations. The Walton family is spending a lot of money so that you have the school choices they want you to have.

Since 2005, the family’s tax-exempt foundation has given more than $1 billion to corporate education reform causes.[5] Walton grantees include:

  • The Alliance for School Choice, a pro-voucher organization led by Betsy DeVos of Michigan’s notorious right-wing DeVos family. (Carrie Walton Penner is an ASC board member.)
  • The National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation.

 Why this is a problem

The Waltons are seizing this opportunity to push a corporatization and privatization agenda, and are doing so in a way that is unaccountable to students, parents, teachers, and communities that will never have as much money as they do. Meanwhile, many parents who work at Walmart have to juggle multiple jobs, or make decisions about whether to pay rent or put food on the table.

For more information, see our latest report on Walmart and Walton family political spending and our 2011 report, What’s Right?: Walmart’s Words vs. Walmart’s Political Priorities

 

Updated 9/16/14


[1] Analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This figure—which includes donations to candidates for school board positions, education PACs, and charter school ballot initiatives—is likely an underestimate, as local-level campaign finance information is more difficult to access and is held by varying jurisdictions. It is based on data obtained from campaign finance databases in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

[4] Sum of total given by John Walton, John Walton’s estate (following his June 2005 death), Alice Walton, and Jim Walton to the following PACs/527 organizations: All Children Matter, All Children Matter – LA State PAC, All Children Matter – MO State PAC, All Children Matter – VA State PAC, American Federation for Children Action Fund, and Louisiana Federation for Children PAC. Records of donations were obtained from IRS Form 8872 filings and state campaign finance databases in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Virginia.

[5] Based on reports of grant funding in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 on the Walton Family Foundation website (and archived versions of the website from the Internet Archive).

 

Comments

  1. Ralph Meyer says:

    Where money is in the political campaign process, so is corruption. There is no difference between so-called ‘campaign funds’ provided by bigwigs and bribes to cops and government officials by criminals to get them to do what the criminals and bigwigs want. This is why the United States has one of the most corrupt governments in the world. almost totally out of touch with the needs of the average person, but well attuned to the demands of such as the Waltons, the Kochs, the Adelsons, GE, Big Oil, Big Agriculture, and Big Insurance Companies. The rest of us pay the bill for the stuff these people get passed, and people get killed by legislators doing whatever the NRA wants. It’s foul, monstrous, and horrid!

  2. Pro says:

    Deborah, of course Walmart has the same rihgts as anyone else to support candidates and priorities, but transparency, or lack of it, is the issue here. Though most folks simply don’t care about the social policies of the companies that profit from their shopping, some do. Those who do make informed choices about where to take their dollars. There may be folks who decide not to shop at Walmart based on the causes Walmart chooses to support. I think that over the past twenty years we’ve pretty much beaten to death the issues around Walmart’s responsibility for permanently damaging the American economy.It should come no surprise to anyone that Walmart continues to wreak economic havoc throughout America for the sake of profit, both directly through its business practices and indirectly through its contributions to those who are actively dismantling our social services safety nets. But if Walmart truly sees Portland as a market in which they want to expand, they’ll have to accept that we’re more politically involved and more liberal than most places, and that we expect them to behave in a socially responsible manner if they are going to do business here.

  3. Tom says:

    Dont be jealous.. you should go out and earn billions of dollars… Then you can give to whom every you want.

  4. Steve says:

    Hilarious…are billionaires like Bloomberg and Soros also “distorting our democracy” with their contributions to Democrat candidates? This is the problem with liberals…you’re not bothered when your people do any of the same things you rail against Republicans for doing. The staggering hipocrisy obliterates any credibility a liberal extremist may be close to obtaining.

  5. dave bradt says:

    Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Peter Lewis (Progressive Insurance chairman),George Soros…..In fact, there are more leftist Billionaires than there are Conservative Billionaires. liberal billionaires have always been more generous with campaign donations than have Conservative Billionaires

  6. seo says:

    Hello! I’ve been reading your web site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas!
    Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

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