Alice Walton becomes 2nd biggest donor to charter school initiative
Yesterday, the Washington Secretary of State’s office certified Initiative 1240 for the state’s November ballot. I-1240 would essentially permit charter schools in Washington, which currently doesn’t accommodate them. The signature filing deadline was July 6; five days later, Alice Walton—who lives in Texas, not the Pacific Northwest—gave $600,000 to the pro-charter school committee.
If passed, newly created charter schools would be exempt from some of the rules and regulations governing the state’s public schools, while operating within the same budget. In the words of the Washington Education Association, “I-1240 siphons taxpayer funding from existing public school classrooms into a new system of unaccountable, privately managed charter schools.”
This is not the first time an initiative like this has come up in Washington State, and it’s not the first time a Walton has backed it. According to the Secretary of State’s blog, “The concept was narrowly defeated in 2000 and lost by larger majorities in 1996 and 2004.” In 2004, John Walton, Alice’s late brother, contributed over $1 million toward the initiative. Like his sister, John Walton was not a Washington State resident, yet he was the biggest contributor toward the referendum that cycle. So far this year, Alice Walton is the second biggest donor to the charter school initiative, only to be outdone by Bill Gates, who narrowly came in second to John Walton eight years ago. Alice Walton has contributed 18% of the funds raised so far.
In short, the Waltons have a history of spending big to advance their agenda, even in states they have no ties to.
As the Seattle Times points out, the Waltons are influencing education policy in Washington State from more than one angle. If voters pass I-1240, “They agree that Washington charter schools must follow practices developed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Robertson Foundation – some of the very people bankrolling the initiative.” In fact, the political arm of a Walton Family Foundation grantee, Education Reform Now, has also contributed to the initiative campaign.
While Alice Walton and John Walton have spent to support charter schools, their nephew Greg Penner fought against one education initiative that would have raised his taxes. In 2006, Penner contributed $250,000 to a campaign against proposed Proposition 82 in California. The proposition, sponsored by actor and director Rob Reiner, sought to establish a universal preschool system in California for four-year-olds by placing an additional income tax on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, and couples making in excess of $800,000.
Walmart helping to undermine tax base
While the Waltons like to talk about their support of education, Walmart is taking steps at multiple levels to reduce their tax bill and thereby reduce funding to schools. Good Jobs First has documented that Walmart has received more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country. In Grandview, Washington, Walmart received a $1 million subsidy to open a distribution center in 2004.
A 2011 report found that Walmart aggressively seeks to avoid paying taxes.
For every kind of tax that a retail company would normally pay or remit to support public services, Walmart has engineered an aggressive scheme to pay less and keep more.
The report concludes:
When Walmart avoids paying its fair share of state and local taxes, only two things can happen: either working families and small businesses pay higher taxes or the quality of schools and other public services goes down, or some of both.
Finally, Walmart also strains public budgets in Washington (and many other states) by being the largest employer of workers who use taxpayer-subsidized health coverage.
Millions spent distorting democracy
The Waltons, whose wealth is equivalent to that of the bottom 42% of Americans and mostly comes from Walmart, have spent over $7 million in state-level politics since the 1990 election cycle, according to data compiled from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. About half was spent on ballot initiatives; 44% was spent on Republican politicians and committees; and 4% went to Democrats. At the federal level, the Waltons have spent nearly $5.1 million over the same time period. About 80% of that went to Republican candidates and committees, including nearly $550,000 to newly emerging super PACsassociated with contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination.