“Oligarchs and Monopolists and Thugs”—and Philanthropists, Oh My!

Print Share on LinkedIn More


March 12, 2013; Source: AlterNet

AlterNet Senior Editor Lynn Parramore offers an entertaining selection of the 10 worst “oligarchs and monopolists and thugs” on the Forbes 2013 billionaires list. What struck us about Parramore’s list is how many of these “10 worst” are also, in their own way, philanthropists.

For starters, take the Koch brothers. Charles Koch is the big money behind the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, whose 2011 Form 990 denotes grants to a potpourri of highly conservative think tanks, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Reason Foundation, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the Ayn Rand Institute, the Hudson Institute, the State Policy Network, the Federalist Society, Pacific Research Institute, and the Council for National Policy. In addition to making large grants to a variety of major universities, his Charles Koch Foundation supports conservative think tanks such as the Bill of Rights Institute, the Acton Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and George Mason University (where he is a board member of the Mercatus Center).

David Koch’s eponymous foundation supports cultural institutions such as City Center in New York and the Ballet Theatre Foundation, various universities, and, like his brother’s foundation, conservative think tanks such as the National Chamber Foundation’s “Campaign for Free Enterprise” and Americans for Prosperity. A hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a theater at Lincoln Center bear his name.

Rupert Murdoch was also on Parramore’s list. The News Corporation media mogul has a family foundation that gives largely to religion and higher education, though it would be hard to believe that he doesn’t give money to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, where he is a trustee. News Corporation has a grantmaking arm that has donated money to Haiti earthquake relief and to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. In 2012, it also gave an eye-popping $20 million to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

The Walmart retail empire has left lots of members of the Walton family sitting on many billions of dollars and there is no shortage of philanthropy associated with the Walton Family Foundation, which distributed almost $488 million in grants in 2011. Much of the Walton family philanthropy is geared toward education, with a strong commitment to charter schools, privatization, and vouchers, so it isn’t surprising to see Walton family members on the boards of the KIPP Foundation (Carrie Walton Penner), Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (Jim Walton), and the Children’s Scholarship Fund (Christy Walton). Alice Walton has been a single-handed force in supporting school reform initiatives aiming as “choice” in various states.

Among the recipients of seven- and eight-figure support from the Walton Family Foundation have been school reform efforts such as Teach for America, KIPP, the New Teacher’s Project, the New Schools Fund, GreatSchools, the California Charter Schools Association, the Alliance for School Choice (with Carrie Penner on the board), the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Floridians for School Choice, and many more. However, the family foundation’s mission is much broader than education, with a large commitment to the economic development of the Mid-South region and several large grants to cultural institutions, such as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where Alice Walton is board chair.

Parramore also picks out Sheldon Adelson, whom the NPQ Newswire has covered for his extreme generosity to the likes of Newt Gingrich and other Republicans during their 2012 campaigns. The casino mogul and his wife, who is a doctor, established the Dr. Miriam & Sheldon G. Adelson Charitable Trust, which supports medical research, as well as the Adelson Family Foundation, which pledged over $28 million to Birthright Israel and has made seven-figure grants to Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, the Rashi School, and others. Sheldon is also on the board of a fund that supports an interdisciplinary education facility in Herzliya, Israel. Miriam is on the board of the American Society for Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, both of which are recipients of millions in Adelson philanthropy. Both Sheldon and Miriam are on the boards of the Friends of the Adelson Drug Clinic and the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation, making substantial medical research grants.

NPQ has long commented on the philanthropy of Pete Peterson on federal deficit issues, Donald Trump on next to nothing, and others. Even Carl Icahn, one of the models for the Wall Street character Gordon Gekko, has a couple of eponymous charities that have provided big grants to the likes of Princeton University and tiny grants to the likes of the Ladies Village Improvement Society (for the preservation of East Hampton, N.Y.). It would appear that, even among AlterNet’s “oligarchs and monopolists and thugs,” there are philanthropists. Oh my! —Rick Cohen

  • Alex

    The Walton family is trying to destroy the public funded school system and promote private schools.
    Then they add insult to injury by donating some made in China school supplies to cash strapped schools.
    The Walton family loves it would seem to hurt America and what is right.