Giving Compass' Take:

• Leslie K. Finger and Sarah Reckhow unpack how the Walton family's evolving political contributions reflect a shift in American's giving. 

• How do changing trends shape the future of philanthropy? What does this shift mean for funders? 

• Learn how political affiliation impacts charitable giving

In the 2012 election cycle, 72 percent of partisan federal and state election contributions from family members serving on the board of the Walton Family Foundation supported Republican candidates and committees. Four years later, in the 2016 election, the same family members gave over 60 percent of their partisan federal and state contributions to Democratic candidates and committees. Should we expect a more lasting change in the political alignments of one of America’s most influential philanthropic families?

According to Forbes, the Waltons are America’s richest family, with a combined net worth of $130 billion dollars.

Both generations of Waltons were increasing their share going to Democrats in the years prior to the start of Donald Trump’s presidential run, which began the summer of 2015. For the older generation, the shift began in earnest in 2013. But the older generation’s all-blue bars in 2015 and 2017 signify off-cycle years, so they should be taken into account less than the surrounding election years; indeed, in 2018, the older generation was still giving more to Republicans than to Democrats. Still, before 2013, the older generation always gave 90% or more of its contribution dollars to Republican-affiliated candidates and committees. There is a clear trend toward providing more dollars to non-Republicans in recent years.

The Waltons serve as a powerful reminder of some key features of donor behavior among major living philanthropists. First, philanthropic money is just one feature of their influence—many living donors are also major contributors to political campaigns. Second, the top 0.01 percent of households are a sizable and growing constituency in both major political parties. Third, philanthropic families can be multi-generational, and the shift from one generation to the next may signal changing ideological perspectives. Wealthy families like the Waltons are not immune to the generational divides in our political system. Given this, and given the unprecedented era of political tumult we are witnessing, political giving from the Walton family and other major wealthy families is poised to continue evolving.

Read the full article about evolving political contributions by Leslie K. Finger and Sarah Reckhow at HistPhil.