Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Meet the Waltons

by

The Walton family, descendants of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, is American oligarchs.  Wal-Mart generates an estimated $400 billion in annual sales (U.S. sales over $274 billion, international over $135 billion), with its current stock valuation at approximately $300 billion.  The family control 50.1 percent of the company’s stock.  Based on Forbes‘ data, the Waltons are the richest family in the U.S., their collective personal wealth estimated at over $130 billion.Four Walton family members are currently in the top 10 of Forbes’ list of the richest Americans: Christy Walton ($35.4 bil), Jim Walton ($33.8 bil), Alice Walton ($33.5 bil) and Samuel Walton ($33.3 bil).

Like other plutocrats, the Walton clan lives high on the hog, with grand estates, luxury cars and major art collections.  They maintain the Walton Family Foundation that, according to the Foundation Center, had an asset value of $2 billion as of December 2012; the Gates Foundation had assets of $37.2 billion. Family members also support local, Bentonville, AK, charities, including the Crystal Bridge Museum of American Art as well as colleges and universities in Arkansas and local initiatives in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

But more revealing then their charitable activities is how the Waltons’ vast wealth has been used to influence critical public issues, most notably charter schools.  Walton contributions are made through: Wal-Mart employees and the company’s political action committee (PAC); through lobbying payments; and the largess of individual family members.

According to OpenSecrets, the Wal-Mart PAC dolled out $3.2 million in 2012, with money going to both Republicans and Democrats.  Total lobbying expenditures in 2013 were $7.3 million and the largest payment was to the Podesta Group, co-founded by an Obama and Clinton operative, John Podesta. The Waltons also back two key conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Thomas Fordham Institute.

The Walton clan and foundation have made a special commitment – not unlike the Gates – to bankroll the charter school movement.  The way each philanthropy uses it’s respective wealth to privatize public education reveals the difference between an oligarch and a plutocrat.

* * *

Sam Walton was a self-made man, confirmation of the great American myth – anyone can succeed.   Born in 1918, he was the son of a small farmer near Kingfisher, OK, who gave up farming for a more profitable career as a farm mortgage broker.  The family was prosperous enough for Walton to graduate high school and attend the University of Missouri during the Great Depression, holding part-time jobs to make ends meet.  During WW-II, he served in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, reaching the rank of captain.

The post-war recovery – and family money – enabled Walton to succeed.  His first retail shop, a Ben Franklin variety store franchise in Newport, AK, was bankrolled by a $20,000 loan from his father-in-law and $5,000 from personal savings; the investment would be equal to about $300,000 in 2013 dollars.

In 1951, after he lost the first store, he opened a second franchise shop in Bentonville, renaming it the Walton’s Five and Dime.  This was followed in ’52 by his first non-franchise store in Fayetteville.  In 1961, he became the majority owner of the Bank of Bentonville, since renamed the Arvest Bank.  In ‘62, he opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, AK, a stepping-stone to becoming the world’s largest retail operation, with stores in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Korea and the UK.  (It remains unclear if Wal-Mart’s $230 million Mexican bribery scandal in 2011 is but the tip of the iceberg.)  Walton died in 1992. 

Walton’s business philosophy was simple and successful.  Go down-market and reach the largest consumer public possible.  To do this, he evolved a bulk purchasing strategy, thus forcing producers to drop their cost-of-goods so he could offer bargain prices, thus maximizing sales.  Concomitantly, he aggressively pushed an anti-union policy, employing low-wage workers with no benefits and keeping stores open later than most competitors, especially during the Christmas season.  The logic of this business philosophy was acutely expressed during the 2013 Christmas season when local Wal-Mart employees organized food-drives for themselves.

Walton’s remarkable success marks the intersection of two phenomena, a particular individual and an historical moment.  He   seemed to have a knack for retailing, the buying and selling of commercial products.  His trajectory shadows that of Richard Sears, who in 1886 began selling watches at a train station in Minnesota.  From this would emerge his legendary new-media innovation, an 80-page mail-order catalog.  In 1925, the first Sears and Roebuck first retail store opened and in 1973 they proclaimed the dominance by building, Chicago’s the Sears Tower, then the largest building in the U.S.; in 2009, it was renamed the Willis Tower.

Walton’s children inherited his massive business operation and vast wealth.  One of the slight-of-hand tricks that these 2nd-generation Walton plutocrats used was to pay little taxes in through what is known as a ”Jackie O.” trust.  It’s a scheme to pass on money tax-free to heirs.  According to Bloomberg’s Zachary Milder: “With a big enough spread between the actual performance and the IRS rate, a Jackie O. trust can theoretically save so much tax that it leaves a family richer than if it hadn’t given a dime to charity.”

* * *

The Waltons effectively leverage their enormous wealth for maximum influence.  In “Distorting Our Democracy,” the website, Walmart 1 Percent, reports that from the 2000 to the 2012 elections, the Waltons and the Walmart PAC spent nearly $17 million in federal elections; some $11.6 million went to GOP candidates and committees, including $900,000 to super PACs in the 2012, of which $400,000 went to Restore Our Future, Mitt Romney’s super PAC.

It also found that the Waltons have worked closely with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) promoting anti-immigrations legislation (in Arizona), voter-ID laws and the “Stand Your Ground” law.  It found that “from 2006-2010 alone, they gave more than $500,000 to the campaigns of ALEC alumni currently serving in Congress.”

They’ve supported candidates opposed to environmental regulations, civil rights, women’s rights (including abortion rights) and gay rights.  Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition and, from 2005 through 2012, its PAC donated approximately $1.7 million to NRA-endorsed candidates.

It also found that “since 2000, members of the Walton family have spent at least $24 million funding politicians, political action committees, and ballot issues at the state and local level that favor their corporate approach to school reform.”  In particularly, Walmart 1 Percent estimates “the family has dropped more than $1 billion toward efforts to ‘infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system.’”  Their efforts have been directed toward promoting charter schools, school vouchers, teaching to the test, breaking unions, merit pay for teachers and opposing early childhood programs.

A recent New York Times investigative report noted, “the size of the Walton’s foundation’s wallet allows it to exert an outsize influence on education policy as well as on which schools flourish and which are forced to fold.”  Among the education privatization groups it supports are: the Charter School Growth Fund ($101.6 mil); Teach for America ($67.2 mil); KIPP, the largest charter school networks ($58.7 mil); the Alliance for School Choice, a advocate for private school vouchers ($18.4 mil); GreatSchools Inc., an online information site ($15.5 mil); and the charter advocacy group, StudentsFirst ($8 mil).

The Waltons are quintessential oligarchs, not simply enormously wealthy plutocrats, but superrich advocates strategically employing their wealth and influence to advance an anti-democratic, rightwing agenda.

David Rosen can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com

 

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]