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.

Political affiliations reveal another side of Yahoo! and CEO Marissa Mayer

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Yahoo ALEC Logo Graphic

Part 1 of a series: The American Legislative Exchange Council

The escalating controversy over Yahoo! CEO and Walmart director Marissa Mayer’s support for a Silicon Valley lobbying group prompted us to look more closely into her political activities. What we found was a little surprising, given Mayer’s reputation as a liberal and major Obama supporter.

It turns out that both Mayer and Yahoo! are affiliated with groups responsible for advancing policies that seem out of step with mainstream values. In this post, we look at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that has been backed by Yahoo!, and which also enjoys close ties to the Walton family, majority owners of Walmart.

ALEC supports the Big Oil agenda (Source: ThinkProgress)

ALEC: A modern-day version of the smoke-filled room

ALEC is basically a modern-day version of the proverbial smoke-filled room; a place where corporate special interests can gather with sympathetic state legislators to hammer out and promote a self-serving legislative agenda. Greenpeace sums it up this way:

ALEC links state legislators with some of corporate America’s largest and most dubious players—Exxon, Koch, coal giant Peabody Energy, and Reynolds Tobacco for example—to create model state legislation. State legislators who pay a small fee to become ALEC members are granted access to a large pool of draft bills and resolutions created by representatives of the corporate giants who finance ALEC, some of which also help govern the organization.

Despite public outcry, Yahoo! seems to be sticking with ALEC

Although ALEC is highly secretive about its membership, a document unearthed by Common Cause shows that Yahoo! Director of State Government Affairs Bill Ashworth was a member of the ALEC Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force as recently as August 2011. Over the last year, a number of corporations have responded to public outrage over ALEC’s record by publicly disaffiliating from the group. There is no indication that Yahoo! has done so.

We do know that Yahoo! is currently listed as a member of the eCommerce trade group NetChoice, and that NetChoice Executive Director Steve DelBianco has been active in ALEC for over a decade. In fact, DelBianco was recently named ALEC’s Private Sector Member of the Year.

Protesters call attention to ALEC’s role in promoting Stand Your Ground legislation. (Photo © PRWatch; Source: PolicyMic)

ALEC: Pursuing corporate-friendly legislation

ALEC’s scope of activity is enormous, as documented by the Center for Media and Democracy, but here are a few choice examples of ALEC’s legislative work (hat tip to Greenpeace):

Walmart is one of forty-nine corporations that have publicly disaffiliated from ALEC since the group became the target of widespread protests last year (the Walton family, which owns a majority of Walmart stock, has not renounced its ties to ALEC).  This is one area where Marissa Mayer might be well-advised to follow in Walmart’s footsteps.

 

Many Call for Walmart 1% to End Its Support of ALEC

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This week, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is holding its annual meeting in Chicago. Today, thousands gathered outside the meeting to show their opposition to ALEC’s right-wing “model legislation.” Some of those present chose to highlight the ongoing role of the Walmart 1% in ALEC.

ALEC has faced a growing drumbeat of concern from citizens troubled by the group’s corporate-sponsored politicians and legislation. Drug companies, tobacco companies, the Koch brothers, and more are associated with ALEC, which offers corporations the opportunity to modify and create legislation with state legislators behind closed doors.

Last spring, Walmart, Amazon, McDonald’s, the Gates Foundation, and many others left ALEC following intense public pressure. In 2011, the Walton Family Foundation and Walmart were listed side by side as chairman level sponsors of ALEC’s annual meeting. According to our analysis, since 1990, Walmart’s PAC and Walton family members have given more than $1 million to politicians who have been board members or state chairs of ALEC.

Unlike Walmart and some of the Waltons’ peers in the foundation world, the Walton Family Foundation has not responded to calls to sever its ties with ALEC. And two other members of the Walmart 1% are affiliated to corporations with ALEC ties.

  • Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!. Although ALEC is highly secretive about its membership, a document unearthed by Common Cause shows that Yahoo! Director of State Government Affairs Bill Ashworth was a member of the ALEC Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force as recently as August 2011. Yahoo! is led by Walmart board member Marissa Mayer, who is facing increasing controversy over some of her other political activities.
  • Steven Reinemund, Exxon Mobil Board of Directors. Walmart director Steven Reinemund, Dean of Business at Wake Forest University, also serves on the ExxonMobil board. An Exxon Mobil executive currently sits on ALEC’s 14-member Private Enterprise Council.

ALEC has become notorious for backing some of the most controversial state laws in recent years, especially ones that attack public education, the environment, and civil rights. ALEC championed the Stand Your Ground laws associated with the killing of Trayvon Martin. In fact, a Walmart executive co-chaired the ALEC task force that endorsed Stand Your Ground. The group is a leading champion of voter ID laws that serve to disenfranchise the poor, people of color, and the elderly in particular. ALEC-endorsed bills would use taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools, evade protections in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and eliminate job protections for teachers. Recently, ALEC has also been found leading the push to weaken or repeal the minimum wage.

Why Does the Walton Family Foundation Donate Every Year to Organization with Anti-LGBT Policies?

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Revelation Comes on Heels of Growing Concern about Walmart and Walton Family and LGBT Community

We’ve written recently about Walmart’s poor track record with the LGBT community and with the Walton Family’s support for an anti-LGBT agenda. From company policies to family political contributions, a worrisome image of an anti-gay empire is emerging, concerns that were expanded on in a recent article in Out magazine.

As the richest family in the nation, the Walton Family has many avenues to exert their influence. One of the ways they do this is by funding organizations through the Walton Family Foundation. Their ties to one such organization—Christian missionary group Young Life—haven’t received the attention they deserve up until now. Young Life is a Christian missionary organization that has a specific prohibition on gays or lesbians serving as staff or volunteers with the organization.

Young Life’s staff manual reads, in part:

With regard to the delicate matter of homosexual lifestyle and practice, in the light of the biblical data regarding creation, Young Life believes such activities to be clearly not in accord with God’s creation purposes.

On the basis of these theological affirmations which flow from our understanding of the Scriptures, we therefore must state very clearly that Young Life staff members and volunteers shall not engage in sexual misconduct.

We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ. We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.

When did the Walton Family Foundation give to Young Life, you ask? Answer: Every single year, since 2002, according to our analysis of the Walton Family Foundation’s 990s. Why are the Waltons associating themselves with an organization that bars gays and lesbians from serving as volunteers and staff? If the Walton Family Foundation, a consistent donor, wanted to encourage Young Life to adopt a more inclusive policy, it seems likely they would listen.

To echo the words of Out magazine, “It’s time for the Walton family and the Walmart board to reconsider the importance of its LGBT employees and the LGBT market.”

While Walmart Gun Sales Rise…

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Walmart and Walton Family Big Funders of NRA-Endorsed Candidates

A number of tragic incidents in 2012 brought gun control and the forces shaping American public policy on the issue—like the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council—into the spotlight. But 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.

Between the 2010 and 2012 federal election cycles, Walmart’s PAC gave just over $1 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. In fact, among politicians with 2012 grades from the NRA, 87% of the Waltons’ 2010-2012 cycle contributions went to candidates with scores between A+ and A-.

Beyond their direct support for NRA-endorsed candidates, Walmart and the Walton family have also helped support a pro-gun agenda through their participation in the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, a membership organization made up primarily of companies and conservative state legislators, produces right-wing model legislation that is then introduced in state legislatures nationwide.

ALEC’s pro-gun efforts have included opposing bans on semi-automatic weapons and opposing waiting periods for background checks. ALEC also helped propagate the notorious “Stand Your Ground” law linked to the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida last February. The “Stand Your Ground” law, which initially shielded Martin’s shooter from arrest in weeks following the killing, came out of an ALEC working committee co-chaired by a Walmart executive in 2005.

Last year, amid public pressure, Walmart withdrew from ALEC. The Walton Family Foundation appears to still be a member of ALEC though, despite the fact that civil rights leaders and others have called on them to withdraw from the organization too.

As the country’s biggest seller of firearms and ammunition, Walmart has relied on gun sales to improve its dismal performance. In 2011, Walmart reportedly began stocking more guns to boost its flagging same store sales. Last month, Walmart pulled the type of assault rifle used in the Connecticut shootings from its website in the days following the attack, but it was available in about 1,700 stores nationally. The move belies Walmart and the Walton family’s support of pro-gun politicians and the company’s reliance on gun sales.

While Walmart uses guns to boost its sales and the Waltons make billions off of Walmart, they continue working behind the scenes through political giving and the Walton Family Foundation’s membership in ALEC to undermine public safety.

 

Some figures updated 4//18/13 to reflect additional information on 2012 election contributions.

Chicago teachers strike against corporate education interests and for better schools for kids. Guess which side the Waltons are on?

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CTU march in Chicago

CTU solidarity march, 9/10/2012 (photo from Chicago Jobs with Justice)

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union are on strike, in a “fight for the soul of public education,” according to a CTU organizer. On one side in this fight are teachers who are advocating not only for themselves but for their students too, calling for smaller class sizes, expanded student support services, and a broad curriculum that includes art and music classes. On the other side are right-wing, anti-teacher education reformers like the Walton family, who, as we’ve seen, have a keen interest in undermining America’s public schools and are one of the largest funders of the right-wing education reform movement nationwide.

Indeed, the Walton Family Foundation has given more than $1 billion to corporate-style education reform initiatives, including millions[1] to the pro-voucher, pro-privatization Alliance for School Choice, where Walmart heir Carrie Penner is also a member of the Board of Directors. In Chicago, in 2011 alone, the family spent more than $3 million funding organizations like Stand for Children, which pushed through state legislation that weakens teachers’ job protections and tried to make it harder for Chicago’s teachers to take a stand for themselves and their students by going on strike.

It’s no surprise that the Waltons are involved in a brand of education reform that is so fiercely anti-teacher—they and their family company are notorious union-busters, and we consider their education efforts a continuation of Walmart’s anti-worker policies. (The family’s foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation in the guise of “shaping public policy” in education.[2]) Teachers and their allies understand what the favored policies of the Waltons and their friends in Chicago are about, though, and know what’s at stake: As the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday, many view the corporate reform efforts in their city “as a brazen attempt to shift public resources into private hands, to break the power of teachers unions, and to reduce the teaching profession to test preparation.” That’s not the teachers’ vision for Chicago’s public schools and that’s why they are courageously fighting back.


[1] Nearly $5 million total in just 2009, 2010, and 2011.

[2] More than $300,000 total in just 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Open Letter to the Walton Family Foundation

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As civil rights leaders, we are writing to call on the Walton Family Foundation to follow in Walmart’s footsteps and end your ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). As you know, many other companies and organizations, including your own company Walmart, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Kraft Food Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield, Procter & Gamble, Amazon.com and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have already cut ties with or distanced themselves from ALEC and their positions.

The history and values of Walmart and those of the Walton family are intertwined. We would expect that the wide divide between some of ALEC’s activities and Walmart’s purpose which prompted your company to ends its membership in ALEC would make the Walton Family reconsider its support of ALEC as well. We are disturbed that, despite your company’s image about support for Civil Rights, you are funding an organization that has helped to propel serious attacks on our communities. And, we were further troubled to learn that Walmart and the Walton family have given more than $1 million to politicians with close ties to ALEC and its agenda.

Among the elements of the ALEC agenda we are most angered by your support of the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws. We were deeply troubled to learn that a Walmart executive co-chaired the ALEC task force that endorsed the Stand Your Ground law.

As the largest seller of guns and ammunition in the country, Walmart and your family may be blinded to the impact of guns and pro-gun laws on our nation and in our communities. The impact is very real.

We are also deeply concerned about ALEC’s role in promoting voter suppression laws. Supporters of discriminatory voter suppression laws claim they want to reduce voter fraud (individuals voting illegally, or voting twice). But such fraud almost never occurs, and never in amounts large enough to affect the result of elections.

Voter suppression laws prevent large numbers of eligible voters from casting a ballot, and could disenfranchise as many as 5 million people. And, it is clear that these laws have the effect of disproportionately disenfranchising the low-income voters, people of color, and the elderly. This runs counter to the Walton Family Foundation’s stated goal to increase opportunity and improve the lives of others.

In this moment when your company and your family are facing widespread criticism for apparent violations of the law and of unethical conduct, we sincerely hope that you’ll take this opportunity to reconsider your course.

We urge you to immediately follow in Walmart’s footsteps and sever ties with ALEC and to publicly voice your opposition to Stand Your Ground and voter suppression laws.

Sincerely,

Reverend Jesse Jackson
Founder & CEO Actor & Political Activist
Rainbow Push

Danny Glover
Actor & Political Activist

Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
National Chair Executive
National Council of Black Women

Gary L. Flowers
Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Dr. Iva E. Carruthers
General Secretary
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, INC.

Dr. Jeremiah Wright
Pastor Emeritus
Trinity United Church of Christ

Dr. Bernard Lafayette
Chairman of the Board
Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Bertha Lewis
President & CEO
The Black Institute

Melanie
President & CEO
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

Campbell Patricia Ford
Founder & CEO
DeElla & Associates, LLC

Reverend Graylan Scott Hagler
Senior Pastor
Plymouth Congregational United Church

Gwen McKinney
CEO
McKinney & Associates PR

William “Bill” Lucy
Founder & President
Coalition of Black Trade Unionist

Dr. Earl Trent
Senior Pastor
Florida Avenue Baptist Church
Washington, DC

Bill Fletcher
Author & Executive
Black Commentator.Com

Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway, Sr.
Editor Senior Pastor
Union Baptist Church
Baltimore, Maryland

Rev. Arthur Waidmann
Retired Minister, United Church of Christ

Tell Walmart and the Walton Family: Drop ALEC!

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Activist and author Bill Fletcher hits the nail on the head in his article on The Root (also published here) this week: It’s time for Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation to join the growing list of companies and foundations—like Coca-Cola, Kraft, Pepsi, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—and cut ties with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

A quick recap:

  • ALEC is infamous for promoting legislation that advances a conservative ideological agenda and benefits its members at the expense of everyone else. As we’ve written before, the organization developed and promoted anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070. It’s 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 Waltons use their wealth to buy influence in our democracy through undemocratic, secretive groups like ALEC. Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation were listed side by side as chairman-level sponsors of the conservative group’s annual meeting last August. A chairman sponsorship cost $50,000 in 2010. Walmart’s VP of Public Affairs, Maggie Sans, is 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.

 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.

So why do the Waltons and Walmart support ALEC and ALEC allies? They might like ALEC’s politics, but they’d also 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.

It’s time for Walmart and the Walton family to stop supporting ALEC and its anti-worker, anti-immigrant, anti-democratic platform.

What do the Waltons’ education schemes really mean for kids?

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Bad news for the Waltons: The Walton Family Foundation’s favorite approach to education reform, “school choice,” seems not to be working out too well—at least if you’re looking for actual academic improvement and not just a corporate-style restructuring of America’s public schools.

As journalist David Sirota reported last week, recent studies indicate that charters are performing worse than the traditional public schools that the Waltons are trying to weaken. One study found that just 17 percent of charters reported significantly better results than traditional public schools, while 37 percent reported significantly worse results.

Interestingly, that particular study was conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)—a pro-charter and pro-school voucher think tank affiliated with the university’s conservative Hoover Institution—and funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation. Even a study funded by the Waltons concludes that the family’s education agenda is falling short.

Are the Waltons really interested in creating schools that work for kids? Or, as Sirota argues, does the Walton family “embrace [charter schools] for their ability to crush teachers unions”?

Walton Family Foundation grantee backs anti-gay state legislator

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We’ve argued previously that the Walton Family Foundation’s (WFF) education agenda is about systematically undermining our nation’s public education system.  But, the more research we do, the more we understand that this funding is also tied to other right-wing issues and agendas.

A prime example is the WFF’s $1 million funding in 2011 for StudentsFirst, an organization promoting corporate-style education reform.  In addition to their anti-public school agenda, StudentsFirst spent more than $70,000 to try to prevent the recall of Michigan state Rep. Paul Scott (R – Grand Blanc), a right-wing politician who is an ideological ally of the organization.

Scott also happens to be an ardent opponent of gay rights. In 2008, he criticized an opponent for accepting money from gay rights groups, which he called “far left and radical homosexual groups,” and in 2010, when he unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for Secretary of State, he announced that preventing transgender people from changing the sex listed on their driver’s licenses would be one of his top priorities. That’s right: This was one of Scott’s main priorities, despite the fact that Michigan had an unemployment rate over 14 percent.

Scott was also a consistent ally of Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder and his budget proposals.   Snyder’s final budget included a $300 million aid reduction to schools statewide.

ThinkProgress commented:

It seems odd that an organization that says its goal is to “build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform, so that America has the best education system in the world” would spend so much money to defend a right-wing Republican who loyally helped his right-wing Republican governor take an axe to the statewide school budget.

StudentsFirst was founded by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.   Rhee announced the formation of the organization during an appearance on Oprah in December 2010 less than two months after she left DC.   Kathleen deLaski, StudentsFirst’s Senior Strategy Advisor, is a former Walton Family Foundation staffer.

We encourage readers of the Walmart 1 Percent to do your own research and help spread the word about the agendas of the Waltons and other members of the 1 Percent.

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