OAKLAND, California - Upon the death of Helen Walton, the frail and aging widow of Sam Walton -- founder of the Wal-Mart empire -- the Walton Family Foundation could receive as much as 20 billion dollars, making it the largest and potentially most powerful foundation in the world.
The Walton Family Foundation currently gives out more than 100 million dollars a year - a healthy chunk of it to opponents of public school education. The Wal-Mart Foundation donated more than 170 million dollars in 2004, 90 percent of which went through local stores to small community and faith-based organizations.
The Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Political Action Committee for Responsive Government earmarks the vast majority of its contributions to Republican Party political candidates and Republican political committees. Of the 2.1 million dollars the PAC gave in 2004, 1.6 million went to the GOP while less than 500,000 dollars went to Democrats.
In its new report "The Waltons and Wal-Mart: Self-Interested Philanthropy", the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) examines the intersection of corporate philanthropy and public policy by looking closely at the philanthropic efforts of the Walton family.
"The importance of the Waltons is not how much money they are giving now, but how much money they will be giving in a few years and where the money will be going," the report states. Philanthropic endeavors and contributions to political candidates and political action committees (PACs) have increasingly become a way the wealthy can divest of surplus capital while promoting their political and social agendas. In 2004, "corporations and their foundations contributed 12 billion dollars in cash and in-kind donations to charities," the NCRP report documents.
John Walton, killed in an airplane crash earlier this year, was "the activist in the family, working to fund political campaigns for school vouchers and charter schools and directing much of the family's charitable giving". It is expected that the Walton Family Foundation's expected cash transfusion would lead to an increasing support for conservative candidates and conservative causes.
So why are the Walton's against public education? Here's one suggestion:
"Some critics argue that it is the beginning of the 'Wal-Martization' of education, and a move to for-profit schooling, from which the family could potentially financially benefit. John Walton owned 240,000 shares of Tesseract Group Inc. (formerly known as Education Alternatives Inc.), which is a for-profit company that develops/manages charter and private school as well as public schools."
Oh, my goodness. We're talking about a huge amount of money going to right-wing causes. It's very worrying.