Just in time for the Walmart annual meeting comes an interesting report in Forbes on the philanthropic arm of the Walmart fortune, the Walton Family Foundation.
A study of 23 years of tax returns by Walmart 1 Percent, a union-backed project critical of Walmart employment practices, makes two core findings:
* STINGY KIDS: The children (and one in-law) of Sam and Helen Walton have given virtually none of their own money to the Family Foundation, which spends its billions on education “reform” and environmental and Northwest Arkansas pursuits, such as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
The combined lifetime contributions of the second generation Walmart heirs and their family holding company to the Walton Family Foundation come to $58.49 million, or:
* About .04% of the Waltons’ net worth of $139.9 billion;
* About .34% of the estimated $17.1 Billion in Walmart dividends that Rob, Jim, Alice and Christy received during the years we analyzed;
* Less than one week’s worth of the Walmart dividends the Waltons will receive this year;
* Less than the estimated value of Rob Walton’s collection of vintage sports cars.
* TAX BREAK: As has long been known, the Walton Foundation is an estate tax avoidance tool that still leaves family heirs solidly in control of the company. (Those shareholder proposals about changes in leadership to come up at the meeting in Fayetteville Friday? Meaningless.)
The report goes on to detail how the Foundation has been funded over the years, namely by tax-avoiding trusts established with assets provided by the late Sam, Helen and John Walton or their estates. The study found that 99% of the Foundation’s contributions since 2008 have been channeled through 21 Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts. These CLATs, as they’re known, are specifically designed to help ultra-wealthy families avoid estate and gift taxes.
While using foundations to thwart the tax man is nothing new for the very rich, Walmart 1 Percent describes the family’s philanthropic activities as less a tax dodge and more another “outpost in the vast Walton family business empire”:
“The Walmart heirs have built one of the largest and most powerful private foundations in the country—at almost no cost to themselves. They have done so with the assistance of financial experts who manage the family holding company, Walton Enterprises, and the Walton Family Foundation with a keen eye toward maximizing the family’s wealth. In addition, the Waltons are exploiting complex loopholes in the tax code in order to avoid billions of dollars in estate taxes by funding their Foundation with special trusts.”
The report compares the Waltons unfavorably with other billionaires.
Whereas Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have given 36.2% and 26.9% of their respective wealth to charitable causes, the Walmart heirs have between them given 0.04% of their fortune, per the report.
Meanwhile, the average middle class earner with a salary of $50,000 to $99,000 contributes 6% of their discretionary income to charity, says the report, basing this figure on data from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The team behind the analysis is aware of the limitations of their data, namely that the Waltons may well “make charitable contributions to entities other than the Walton Family Foundation.” However, the group “did not find evidence of major, sustained giving by the Waltons to charitable organizations” other than their foundation.
A representative of the Walton Family Foundation reviewed the report and provided the following statement to Forbes:
“Since 1987, the Walton family has contributed more than $5 billion to charitable organizations and causes. Family members living and deceased have provided generously for the foundation. The family has planned for the continued growth of the foundation and intends for grant making to progressively increase over time.”
Time for the University of Arkansas’s Walton campus to put some profs to work debunking this report. If they aren’t already. Here’s a link to the full report.
Walmart 1 Percent had more to say in a release about the report:
* Aaron Dorfman of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy said, “Our nation has a great history of wealthy entrepreneurs who have given away nearly all their wealth to support worthy philanthropic causes. It’s a shame to see a family like the Waltons with such tremendous means give so little.”
* According to a Bloomberg report, the Waltons are the largest users of the tax avoidance CLATs. Americans for Tax Fairness has estimated they’ve saved the Waltons $3 billion in estate taxes.
* “The Waltons are using their foundation to game the system. At almost no cost to themselves and with the help of financial experts, they have funnelled money to their foundation from special trusts to avoid paying an estimated $3 billion in estate taxes,” said Jessie Spector, Executive Director of Resource Generation. “The Waltons are using their foundation to increase their own wealth, and that shouldn’t be considered philanthropy.”