The Walton Family Foundation: How Much Do They Give and To Whom?

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The Walton Family Foundation is the 22nd largest US Foundation with $2.2 billion in assets, according to the Foundation Center.[1]     The WFF was the 8th largest foundation in terms of giving, with $360 million in contributions as of the end of 2009.[2]

Given the enormous wealth of the Walton Family[3], the endowment of the Walton Family Foundation is relatively small.     As a group, the Walton Family is considerably more wealthy than Bill Gates, with $93 billion, compared to Gates’ $59 billion.    However, whereas Gates has endowed his Foundation with more than $33 billion, more than 57% of his wealth, the Walton Family Foundation has just a $2.3 billion endowment – just 2.4% of the family’s wealth.

When we examine their rate of giving (as opposed to simply looking at the size of the endowment), the Walton Family Foundation trails badly again.   While Gates gave away an amount equivalent to 5.2% of his Foundation’s wealth in 2009, the Walton Family Foundation gave less than ½ of one percent.

The chart below summarizes these findings.

  Waltons/Walton
Family Foundation
Gates/Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Family Wealth[4]

$93,000,000,000

$59,000,000,000

Foundation Assets (Year ending 12/31/09)[5]

$2,275,851,898

$33,912,320,600

Giving, Fiscal (Year ending 12/31/09)[6]

$360,407,050

$3,055,067,596

Foundation Assets as Percentage of Wealth

2.4%

57.5%

Foundation Giving as Percentage of Wealth

0.4%

5.2%

 

 

 

The Giving Pledge: Waltons are Silent

Recently, some of the wealthiest families and individuals in the United States have made public commitments to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy.     The project was started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.    The commitment, known as The Giving Pledge, has taken by nearly 70 people, including the Gates, Buffett, Eli Broad, Mark Zuckerburg, and Ted Turner.      You can see a full list of those who have pledged here. [7]

Who’s missing from the list?   You guessed it, the Waltons.    Nowhere on the list will you find Rob, Alice, Jim or Christy Walton.    You also won’t find any of Sam Walton’s grandchildren or any of Bud Walton’s children or grandchildren.     Why not?    Is $93 billion in family wealth not enough to live on?

Crystal Bridges Museum

In 2011, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Arkansas.    The Museum was largely funded by the Walton Family Foundation, which donated more than $1.4 billion.

Many in Northwest Arkansas and the surrounding area have cheered the new museum.     And, while few can deny the cultural value of having a major new museum open in a historically underserved region, many are asking questions about how the museum came to be, what it says about the priorities of the Walton family and what costs and benefits it will bring to the region.

A Museum Subsidized by Taxpayers

Just as Walmart is often the recipient of taxpayer subsidies[8], the Waltons too sought and received subsidies when building Crystal Bridges Museum, in the form of a 2005 state bill that exempted the museum from state sales and use taxes.

The bill was written in a way that was clearly  intended to apply only to the Waltons’ Crystal Bridges, requiring that to qualify for the tax breaks, a museum had to open by January 1, 2013, had to cost more than $30 million to build, and house more than $100 million worth of art.   This was clearly a bill custom written for Crystal Bridges.

You might ask yourself, why does a museum being built by the richest family in America need a tax subsidy from Arkansas, a state that faced substantial budget shortfalls in FY 2009 and FY 2010..[9]    The argument given by the proponents of the bill was that they wanted to be sure that the Walton family didn’t choose to locate Crystal Bridges elsewhere.[10]

Unfortunately, with the taxpayer money safely pocketed, Alice Walton has now made clear that she never would have located anywhere other than Arkansas.    Writing of Alice Walton on InArkansas.com, Jan Cottingham writes:

“She never thought of locating the museum, expected to exhibit one of the greatest collections of American art in the world, anywhere other than northwest Arkansas. In fact, she laughs at the idea.”[11] (emphasis added).

Exactly how much subsidy Crystal Bridges received is difficult to calculate, according to State officials, but some have estimated a loss of tax revenue as high as $15 million.[12]  This estimate was made using 2008 tax returns, so it is likely that actual losses to the state could be even higher given that construction and art acquisition costs both increased significantly since that time.    Alice reaped the benefit, but the State of Arkansas continues to shoulder the burden.

Misplaced Priorities

 Some have called attention to the misplaced priorities of the Walton family.    While the family has built their wealth on the backs of low-paid workers and off-shore jobs, they have chosen to open a billion dollar art museum.

Writing in Bloomberg, Jeffery Goldberg, while acknowledging the artistic appeal of the museum argues that it is “also a moral tragedy, very much like the corporation that provided Walton with the money to build a billion-dollar art museum during a terrifying recession.”[13]

Goldberg then concludes:

“I’m not begrudging Alice Walton her inherited wealth. What I am begrudging are her priorities. Walton has the influence to help Wal-Mart workers, especially women, earn more money and gain access to affordable health care.

But her response so far to the needs of the people whose sweat pays for her paintings is a simple one: Let them eat art.”

Some Walmart workers have expressed the same concern about misplaced priorities.  In fact, the museum opened just weeks after Walmart slashed health coverage for it’s employees.[14]

Cindy Murray, a member of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OURWalmart), says, “A museum for the good people of Arkansas is great.   I’m happy for them.    But, it is time for the Waltons to stand up and support their workers.    We work hard, we make the company work and we’re how they keep getting richer.   But what have we got in return?   Low wages, bad health insurance and not enough hours.   It isn’t right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


[3] Link to our page on Walton wealth

[5] http://foundationcenter.org/findfunders/topfunders/top100assets.html

[6] http://foundationcenter.org/findfunders/topfunders/top100giving.html

[10] Taxes lost on museum unclear Crystal Bridges exemptions will pay off, officials. Evie Blad.  Arkansas-Democrat Gazette  March 8, 2010

[11] http://www.inarkansas.com/article/soiree/26863/crystal-bridges-museum-for-alice-walton-its-about-love8212of-art-history-country-and-family

[12] Taxes lost on museum unclear Crystal Bridges exemptions will pay off, officials. Evie Blad.  Arkansas-Democrat Gazette  March 8, 2010

[13] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-13/wal-mart-heiress-s-museum-a-moral-blight-commentary-by-jeffrey-goldberg.html

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Remember low-paid employees of Walmart are the 99% struggling to make ends meet while the executives 1% are racking up billions in numerous of atrocities.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That’s what unions are for, mostly for better treatment of their employees, fair pay, reasonable hours, and free healthcare.

  3. chear says:

    My guess is that now that buying art is fashionable among the very rich, they looked at the market and saw that the prices were at an historic ultra-high. So they decided to “discover” their own artists, promote them, and make them famous so the values would increase while in their own possession. A “smart” investment for the Waltons.

  4. Chris says:

    Excellent comment Chear. Yes, greed at it’s finest.

  5. Jim Rambo says:

    Lords of the Manor…..2014. It’s selfish. It’s ridiculous.

  6. Laughing at idiots says:

    What a bunch of morons!

    Wealth isn’t income! Wealth isn’t CASH!

    Next time you are shopping at WalMart with the legions of uneducated fools as you all appear to be, remember that the building, parking lot and items in the store is not cash. Yet, it is the Walton family wealth.

  7. A says:

    Who wrote this? Kind of bad- Buffett has 2 T’s

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