Reports in Review

The Public Eye Magazine - Winter 2005
Report of the Month

The Waltons and Wal-Mart:

Self-Interested Philanthropy
by Betty Feng and Jeff Krehely, Center for Responsive Philanthropy, September 2005.

With $90 billion earned from their stake in the Wal-Mart Corporation, the Waltons are the richest family in the world. They manage their money and ownership stake jointly through Walton Enterprises, set up by Sam Walton five years before his death, allowing his wife Helen and four children to avoid paying estate taxes. It is through Walton Enterprises that the family owns 39% of Wal-Mart's stock. So the family controls the corporate giving of the Wal-Mart company's Foundation, which distributed $170 million in 2004, making it the second largest corporate giver in the country. And the family also controls the Walton Family Foundation, which, according to this splendid report, gives comparatively little given the family huge assets but still managed to give away just under $107 million in 2003.

What do they do with their money? Given all the black eyes Wal-Mart has gotten, the Wal-Mart Foundation's giving is up 70% from 2002 to 2004, earning it a generous reputation among Americans. Ninety percent of it is distributed through local stores by local managers following corporate guidelines: churches get a lot of it, and other charitable endeavors that would "benefit" a typical Wal-Mart shopper. The average grant is $1000.

"Corporate philanthropy is tantamount to government-subsidized (through tax breaks) advertising for for-profit corporations," write the authors. Put simply, it is part of a company's business plan.

The family foundation, on the other hand, can be credited with propping up charter school and voucher campaigns aiming to privatize schooling. Children's First America—an advocate for vouchers that has written amicus briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court and provides research and materials for allied groups—received $30.7 million in 2004. One donation that seems to raise the ire of the even-handed authors is the relatively modest $600,000 given to the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit which markets vouchers to African Americans, and has been charged with creating only an "image of a grassroots voucher movement." The discredited columnist Armstrong Williams serves on its board, and indeed, like Williams, the nonprofit also got large sums from the Department of Education to peddle the benefits of No Child Left Behind.

Wal-Mart's corporate PAC is the nation's third largest, giving $2.1 million in 2004. It retains six D.C. lobbyists to promote tax breaks for off-shore holdings, greater restrictions on union organizing, and Medicare prescription drug benefits.

"It appears that philanthropic grant making and campaign contributions to political action committees (PACs), as well as to candidates increasingly represent the surplus capital of the wealthy, which they can devote to promoting their sociopolitical worldview," the authors write. The Waltons are major conservative donors, up there with the Scaife and Koch families, but get far less attention.

Other Reports in Review

Anti-Gay Ministry

A Report from "Love Won Out": Addressing, Understanding, and Preventing Homosexuality, Minneapolis, Minn., September 18, 2004
by Cynthia Burack and Jyl J. Josephson, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, New York, 2005. Link.

The authors visited a regional ex-gay conference sponsored by James Dobson's Focus on the Family (FOF). They joined a paying audience of ministers, family members, mental health clinicians and youth workers.

Focus on the Family ministers to the family of gay people, all of whom are "hurting." Lesbians and gay men are portrayed as broken, angry and unhappy, and their dysfunctional families in need of support and guidance. Some speakers identified as ex-gay, and some were family members of gay men or lesbians. [This year's lineup features Nancy Heche, widowed by the death of her husband from AIDS and actress Anne Heche's mother.] As a ministry, the religious ex-gay movement stresses the love of God as the healing force for the homosexual "problem."

"We are all heterosexual in our true nature"…but "some of us have a homosexual problem" said speaker Joseph Nicolosi, the president of NARTH, the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, and the leading advocate for reparative therapy for lesbians and gay men. The other less well-known figures all were, or had been, employed by Focus on the Family.

The speakers portrayed same-sex attraction as a misplaced need for "love, approval, wholeness, or affection," deemphasizing sexuality and placing the focus of homosexuality on certain parenting styles and on the essentially reparative, or "repairing," drive of homosexuality to regain lost childhood security. The conference called for compassion for gayidentified loved ones within the family structure, distinguishing its approach from an anti-gay culture war.

The researchers noticed some theocratic elements in the talks. Joe Dallas, former president of Exodus International, an organization of "ex-gays," framed homosexuality as a central battleground for the church's influence on the United States. The authors' summarized his comments as, "Christians who do not act politically are being unfaithful."

In referring to data and their own credentials to make their case, the speakers were sometimes misleading. For instance, presenters drew on feminist and "queer" theory's description of sexual identity as fluid to defend reparative therapy's work in intervening and changing individuals' identities.

The audience received several tips and strategies for successful ex-gay campaigns, including trying to avoid punitiveness, cultivate the appearance and reality of compassion, avoid quoting the Bible when dealing with schools, and present yourself as a victim of an anti-free speech campaign by the gay movement.

Watch for Love Won Out conferences in St. Louis in February and Ft. Lauderdale in May.

Criminalizing the Poor

"To Punish the Poor: Criminalizing Trends in the Welfare System"
by Kaaryn Gustafson, Women of Color Resource Center Working Paper No. 3(2005)

Poor people are criminals. At least, that seems to be the assumption of state lawmakers putting the 1996 welfare "reform" law into practice, argues Kaaryn Gustafson in her recent report for the Women of Color Resource Center, "To Punish the Poor: Criminalizing Trends in the Welfare System."

State TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) laws invade welfare recipients' privacy (through drug testing, making welfare files available to law enforcement officials, and fingerprinting); disenfranchise families economically (by permanently barring individuals from welfare benefits); and criminalize childbearing (by setting "family caps" that deny an increase in benefits for children born to women receiving welfare). All, says Gustafson, in the name of "crime control."

Race plays a role too. Across time and geography, as African Americans make up a greater percentage of welfare recipients in a state, state lawmakers create increasingly punitive welfare policies, assuming greater criminality among recipients. All this is possible because the 1996 welfare reform law ended welfare as a federal entitlement, allowing states to implement their own rules, regulations and practices. As in the 1950s, Gustafson argues, welfare benefits now reflect the racial climate of each individual state.

Government Information Remains Hidden

A Flawed Tool: Environmental Reporters' Experiences with the Freedom of Information Act
By Elizabeth Bluemink and Mark Brush, with Darren Samuelsohn and Lacey Phillabaum, First Amendment Task Force, Society of Environmental Journalists, September 2005

The Society of Environmental Journalists formed a First Amendment Committee after September 11th, as its members faced greater challenges in securing information from the federal government. Then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in October 2001 issued a memo giving federal agencies more leeway in rejecting reporter requests for information under the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The change is visible and documented in this report, based on interviews with 55 members. In a blow especially to daily news reporters, agencies are no longer responding to routine telephone requests for Superfund or mine inspection reports and are demanding written FOIA requests for once routine information; it is "difficult or impossible to collect information for stories on so-called 'critical infrastructure,' such as hydroelectric dams and pipelines"; some reporters are still waiting years later for information, and often when agencies do release documents they cross out large portions; the Departments of Energy, Defense, Mine Safety and Health and the Food and Drug Administration are the worst offenders.

The report has a plan of action for Congress: pass the three Senate bills that would quicken the process, create a panel to investigate the delays, and establish a special office just to track FOIA requests. Also Congress must clarify that FOIA also covers access to information held by federal contractors.

Young Women of Color

She Speaks: African American and Latina Women on Reproductive Rights
The Pro-Choice Public Education Project, 2004

This report is a must-read. Focus groups conducted with young African American and Latina women add still under-represented voices to the mix in ways that challenge standard political strategy. For instance, "rights talk" —like "never go back" or "keep your laws off my body"—"often reference the era before abortion was legal" and has no relevance to these women, many of whom feel in control of their "reproductive rights." And focusing only on abortion rights overlooks the health challenges that young Latino and African American women do relate to. Some of these challenges are the higher incidence of HIV/AIDS, higher mortality rates for reproductive cancer, and lack of health care coverage in their communities. Also, rather than ignore young women's desires to have babies, we must connect healthy families and babies with reproductive rights. And since this is a personal issue for these young women, not a political one, talking about reproductive health personally is the way to go.

From the Right

Bloodless Revolution?

Cato Supreme Court Review
ed. Mark Moller, Cato Institute, Washington, D.C., October 2005.

In the Libertarian Cato Institute’s annual Cato Supreme Court Review, criticism of the Rehnquist court can get heated: "The post-New Deal administrative state is unconstitutional, and its validation by the legal system amounts to nothing less than a bloodless constitutional revolution."

Vol. 19, No. 3:

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