From the Arkansas Democrat Gazette:
The Walton Family poured $415 million into their charitable foundation last year, climbing to 37 th among America’s wealthiest private foundations.
The Walton Family Foundation moved up from 44 th even though it gave away more money than ever before — $157 million. Among the 2005 gifts: $19 million for the planned Crystal Bridges art museum in Bentonville and $2.1 million to jump-start a new cause: restoring depleted fisheries.
The foundation held $1.3 billion in assets at year-end 2005, up from $1.1 billion in 2004, according to the income-tax return it filed Wednesday.
Helen Walton, matriarch of Wal-Mart’s founding family, contributed $356.5 million last year, according to the tax return. The rest of the new money came from family trusts.
The Bentonville-based foundation is still far behind America’s richest, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle. With $29 billion at yearend 2005, the Gates foundation dwarfed the second-ranking Ford Foundation even before Gates forged his charitable alliance with powerhouse investor Warren Buffett.
The Gates foundation also gives away the most money, $1.4 billion. The Walton Family Foundation ranks 17th in giving, according to the Foundation Center, a nonprofit foundation tracker in New York.
Until recently, the Walton foundation has channeled its money into three causes: overhauling education, lifting the impoverished Delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi, and helping already prosperous Northwest Arkansas.
Family spokesman Jay Allen said the Waltons have decided to help rebuild marine and freshwater fisheries, especially the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California. The family’s interest in sustaining watery ecosystems extends to Delta wetlands.
S. Robson Walton, chairman of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., has a particular interest in marine and freshwater conservation, but other family members share it, Allen said. “It’s just something that they have developed an appreciation for in the last few years,” he said.
The foundation is managed by a board of trustees that includes Sam Walton’s widow, Helen Walton, and their children — S. Robson Walton, Alice Walton and Jim Walton — as well as a handful of Waltons from younger generations.
“They have a pretty sophisticated awareness of resource decline,” said Mark Powell, director of fish conservation for The Ocean Conservancy, which was the beneficiary of a $1 million donation.
The nonprofit conservancy is putting the Walton money to work in the Gulf of Mexico. Powell said that poor management of the fishery has depleted its “natural capital” — the fish — and that his Walton-financed approach emphasizes strategies that promise to benefit commercial fishermen as well as the ecosystem they rely upon. One idea: transferable quotas limiting the catch of decimated species such as red fish.
Walton money does not support any of the conservancy’s lobbying, Powell said.
“What the Waltons are funding,” he said, “is a very large effort to reach out to fishermen and fisheries managers, and the federal agencies that are in charge, and demonstrate to them as best we can the win-win scenario of restoring fish populations to abundance.”
The Walton Foundation also gave $1.1 million to Environmental Defense, formerly known as the Environmental Defense Fund. The organization is working alongside The Ocean Conservancy in the Gulf of Mexico.
The foundation continued to direct most of its seven-figure donations to education, however.
Sam Walton’s middle son, John, who died in June 2005 in an experimental-airplane crash near his home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., was the prime mover behind the foundation’s support of charter schools and other education changes.
“But the family remains committed to K-12 reform,” said Allen, the Walton spokesman. The Waltons’ education ideas, including merit pay for public-school teachers, have proved contentious. Some public-school interests have complained that they undermine traditional public schools.
Among education-overhaul groups receiving $1 million or more were the Alliance for School Choice Inc., $1.9 million; Brighter Choice Foundation, $3.3 million; Building Excellent Schools, $1.1 million; California Charter School Association, $2.6 million; Charter Fund Inc., $3.3 million; Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation, $5.6 million; Children’s Scholarship Fund, $13.3 million; KIPP Foundation, $1.2 million; National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, $1.5 million; New Schools Venture Fund, $5.9 million; and Pacific Charter School Development Inc., $2.4 million.
It’s not unusual for the Waltons to devote a large proportion of the foundation’s grants to education changes. The Walton Family Foundation has been the most generous private philanthropy in the country in supporting charter schools, according to a report issued this month by Education Sector, an independent educationpolicy research group in Washington.
The Waltons’ gifts for K-12 schooling have outpaced the educational philanthropy of Ford, Carnegie, Kellogg and other venerable names in philanthropy, according to Education Sector.
The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, a separate foundation established by the Waltons, also filed its tax return Wednesday. It listed $77.2 million in assets, down slightly from $78.8 million in 2004.