Walmart Heirs Fund Anti-Fishing Activists

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Walmart logoRecently NLPC reported that Walmart’s top “sustainability” adviser, who provided significant help in getting the company’s “Green” credibility with environmentalist groups in gear, was Jib Ellison – a former wilderness expeditionist and river guide, and author of a guide on whitewater rafting. The story of his relationship with Walmart, which began with the introduction of Ellison by Rob Walton (son of founder Sam) to former company CEO Lee Scott, is documented in the new book Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Walmart’s Green Revolution by Edward Humes.

The passion for environmental concerns (which has also included foolish corporate support for cap-and-trade policies) has carried over to the philanthropic initiatives of Sam’s descendants, with the Walton Family Foundation pouring $71.8 million into oceans and river systems “conservation.” Walton heirs, including Rob, make up the entirety of the foundation’s board. A major group of sport fishermen are not amused and have called for an angler boycott of Walmart.

The bulk of the foundation’s grants have gone to many of the usual suspects within environmental extremism: Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, National Audubon Society, American Rivers, Ocean Conservancy, and Marine Stewardship Council, among others. The New Jersey-based Recreational Fishing Alliance calls the substantive gifts an attempt to “fund the demise of both the recreational and commercial fishing industry,” noting especially Ocean Conservancy’s desire to eliminate access.

“These folks are pushing hard to complete California’s network of exclusionary zones throughout the entire length of coastline,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of RFA, “and they’ve made it very clear that they would like to see the West Coast version of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) extended into other coastal U.S. waters.

“Here’s an organization which has publicly opposed creation of artificial reefs used by Wal-Mart’s tackle buyers, in some cases openly advocating for their removal, yet the Walton family is handing over tons of money for support.”

Indeed, the organization’s Web site says, “Ocean Conservancy will continue working to complete California's network of protected areas, which will stretch the entire length of the state,” and urges supporters to “send policymakers a letter to ensure that this network of special coastal places will be protected for future generations to enjoy.”

Future generations that exclude fishermen, that is. RFA (dismissive of the environmental extremists’ definition of “overfishing”) also criticizes the Waltons for their support of catch share programs – a sort of “cap-and-trade” for fishing. “Walmart apparently prefers customers buy farm-raised fish and seafood caught by foreign countries outside of U.S. waters, while denying individual anglers the ability to head down to the ocean to score a few fish for their own table,” Donofrio said.

RFA has already implemented a boycott of Safeway, the supermarket chain, for similar positions on the MLPA. "Apparently Safeway has gotten some bad advice from the people in the ocean protection racket, a community to which the California-based mega-corporation is now donating profits," said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the RFA. A sample protest letter from RFA members says:

Should these groups be successful in achieving their goals in California, you can bet that they’ll be working overtime in every other coastal state to create a network of no-take zones that bar "injury," "harm" and "harassment" of fish stocks in large areas of the nation's marine waters. Rather than supporting our nation’s fishermen by protecting American access to coastal fish stocks, it appears that Safeway would rather see our families buy only farm-raised fish and seafood caught by foreign countries outside of U.S. waters, countries with less stringent controls on fishing effort than we enjoy here in the United States of America.

In response Safeway said it is determined in its support of MLPA, “to ensure the biodiversity and productivity of our oceans.” 

In its 2010 funding cycle, Walton Family Foundation granted Ocean Conservancy $3.75 million for marine area conservation. Other noteworthy groups receiving funds for the same purpose were Conservation International Foundation ($8.6 million), Environmental Defense Fund ($3.27 million), Marine Stewardship Council ($4.6 million), Nature Conservancy ($6 million), Trust for Conservation Innovation ($1.7 million), and World Wildlife Fund ($737,000). More than $36 million total was given to groups for marine conservation.

For freshwater conservation, the family foundation gave various groups nearly $23 million in 2010, including another $3.5 million to Environmental Defense Fund, $2.6 million more to Nature Conservancy, $2.3 million to National Audubon Society, and $1.9 million to National Wildlife Federation. 

In 2009 Walton Family Foundation gave $55.6 million to environmental causes, including approximately $44 million to marine and freshwater conservation, with multi-million dollar grants going to most of the large above-mentioned groups. Environmental Defense Fund was blessed with $16 million and Ocean Conservancy received $2.35 million.

The large grantmaking for diminished free access to public waters is a relatively new phenomenon for the Walton heirs, who not so long ago “tiptoed” into environmentalism, making “some small, experimental grants…an approach it takes when considering a new program area,” according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Before taking the leap in that issue area, Walton Family Foundation had (and still does) gave largely to the causes that founder Sam Walton was passionate about: the company’s home state of Arkansas, and education reform. The foundation’s has donated millions, if not billions, of dollars to causes and research that support the introduction of competition into public education, including charter schools and vouchers. “I’d like to see an all-out revolution in education” Sam wrote in his autobiography.

But now, as so many heirs have done with the charitable institutions created by their entrepreneurial founders, the Walton children now fund beyond the original intentions of the philanthropy’s creation. Apparently Walmart eco-adviser Jib Ellison, former Al Gore aide and company vice president Leslie Dach, and a host of other “sustainability”-minded gurus at the retail corporation have influenced the Walton Family Foundation, which itself has hired  on its “environmental staff” alumni from World Wildlife Fund, American Rivers, Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

According to San Francisco Independent Media, EDF’s Tom Lalley tried to distance the huge contributions by the family foundation from Walmart Corporation, the target of RFA’s boycott. “It was the family, and specifically the family’s foundation, that made a contribution for sustainable fishing and ocean conservation, and not the store."

RFA’s Donofrio would have none of that. “Mr. Lalley is putting a false spin on this issue," he said. “The fact is that the Walton family's money comes from the profits on the Walmart stores that they founded. The Waltons are still in the top management tier of the company.”

And they completely control the family foundation.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and is executive director of American Tradition Institute.

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