New: the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force is dominated by business & industry, chaired by Walmart heir Steuart Walton, and staffed by members of his holding company, a Walton-funded think tank, and a Walton-held 501(c)4. Here’s how that’s played out: https://t.co/tGpOk4neAO
— Olivia Paschal (@oliviacpaschal) July 23, 2020
This is some great enterprise reporting by Olivia Paschal, a Northwest Arkansas-based reporter on Southern issues for Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.
It was self-evident from the first that Governor Hutchinson’s Economic Recovery Task Force was created of, by and for Arkansas’s corporate interests. What better figurehead for a corporate-dominated group than the lucky heir to Walmart billions, Steuart Walton? What better indicator than their top priority — corporate immunity from liability lawsuits, soon delivered by Governor Hutchinson? (Help for people facing eviction; for relief from overly restrictive food stamp rules; for people who work and must send kids to dangerous classes or stay home; for people waiting for weeks for unemployment benefits frozen by an incompetent Hutchinson administration? No task force for them.)
So that’s not exactly news. But what’s great about this story is the detail. Paschal used the state open records law to get minutes of the group’s meetings (which haven’t been open to the public.) Walton employees staff the task force, it turns out.
The Runway Group employees staffing the task force are CEO Chad Yoes, Vice President Mike Malone, and Communications Director Krista Cupp. Before coming to Runway, Yoes was a vice president at Walmart, where he worked for over 17 years. Malone previously served as president of the Northwest Arkansas Council, a regional economic development organization. And Cupp previously worked for the National Rifle Association and Tyson Foods, a meat-processing company based in Arkansas.
The other members of the task force’s “Walton Team” are Angie Cooper and Ryan Baird. Cooper is a chief program officer at Heartland Forward, a regional think tank spearheaded and funded by the Walton Family Foundation; she spent nearly 17 years working in government relations for Walmart, according to her LinkedIn page. Since 2016, Baird has been the advocacy director for Leadership for the Future, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit started by Steuart Walton and his brother Tom “to reframe Northwest Arkansas’s community priorities through a systematic effort to educate current elected officials, cultivate community leaders, and support policy issues,” according to its public tax forms. It paid Walton Enterprises, the family office that serves the personal and business needs of the family of Sam and Helen Walton, $240,000 for administrative expenses in 2018.
According to minutes reviewed by Facing South, the Walton Team has worked with the governor’s office and members of the task force to prepare much of the task force’s most prominent public-facing material. That includes the website arkansasready.com, which aggregates information and government regulations for businesses and consumers about mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and the task force’s interim report, which was published on May 28. Their roles on the task force have not been previously reported.
There’s a lot more, but it fills in details that better paint the portrait. Labor unions, grassroots people and advocates for the poor need not apply. I recall Walton himself addressed this absence at one of the governor’s happy talk briefings. The answer, essentially, was the old trickle-down theory. What’s good for business is good for Arkansas.
I wish Paschal could have worked in a sentence about something I reported a while back: that Walton’s business paid for a poll (done by a political group deeply linked to the governor) that was spun by the governor as supporting his then-preference for educating people on wearing masks rather than requiring it. We know how that turned out.
Walton, Walmart, Tyson, Mike Malone, Northwest Arkansas Council. Remember them? They all figured in something I wrote yesterday about how corporations sometimes say good things but spend their money politically in damaging ways. This includes people who don’t exactly gee and haw with the Northwest Arkansas Council’s pledge campaign unveiled yesterday to promote “equity and inclusivity.”
A little more inclusivity would be nice on the governor’s Economic Recovery Task Force. Not going to happen.
As Bill Kopsky of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel told Paschal:
“The makeup of the advisory council is completely, completely skewed towards giant corporate folks. What the governor has done is surrounded himself only with those people, and so there is no debate. They’re all in their own ideological echo chamber, and it’s led to disastrous policy.”
Their strategy has demonstrably failed to slow the growth of coronavirus in Arkansas. But, hey. Tax revenue from business is coming in way better than expected and more people are working (sometimes under duress).