How Wal-Mart's Chairman Burned Through Millions Of Dollars In A Matter Of Seconds

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Wal-Mart family Jim Walton, Alice Walton and Rob Walton

REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Jim Walton, Alice Walton, and Rob Walton cheer at the annual shareholders meeting for Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

It took Wal-Mart Chairman Rob Walton a matter of seconds to burn through millions of dollars on a race track last year.

He was reportedly tearing around a corner in his rare Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe, one of five ever made, when he ran it off the track and wrecked it.

The car has been estimated to be worth as much as $15 million, according to The Los Angeles Times,  and it likely cost him a couple million dollars to fix it.

The Waltons are without question one of the wealthiest families in the world.  Forbes estimates that the net worth of just six of the family members is more than $144 billion, which is greater than the combined net worth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett .

Rob Walton's father, Samuel Walton, founded Wal-Mart in 1962. The family now owns a 50.9% stake in the company that's worth  $131 billion and paid out $2.5 billion in dividends last year. The dividends alone would be enough to pay every one of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million U.S. employees nearly $2,000 in cash.

As Business Insider reported last week, the Waltons have mostly kept their multi-billion-dollar lifestyles out of the public view.

Consider Rob Walton, for example: Besides houses in Aspen, Colo., and Paradise Valley, Ariz., at least a half dozen vintage cars, and the recent purchase of 1,500 acres of land in Hawaii for a planned resort, you would be hard-pressed to find many signs of his outrageous wealth.

But with Wal-Mart workers striking for better wages and groups like OUR Walmart organizing national protests against the company, the Walton's wealth — and how they manipulate the tax code to pass it onto heirs nearly tax-free — has become a subject of particular interest. 

Activists argue that the Waltons' reported money-hoarding has become characteristic of Wal-Mart's corporate culture, and that the company — which turned a $17 billion profit last year — could afford to give employees a raise without affecting its bottom line.

One of those activists is Rev. Holly Beaumont, who helped organize Wal-Mart protests on Black Friday in New Mexico.  She says the Waltons are  "modern-day Pharaohs right out of the book of Exodus.”

"They are accumulating wealth at obscene proportions without [any concern for] their workers, forcing them to depend on the charity of their community,” Beaumont said.

While the average wage of Wal-Mart associates is the subject of  some dispute  (OUR Walmart claims that most make less than $9 per hour, an estimate based on data from IBISWorld and Glassdoor.com, while Wal-Mart pegs the figure at $11.83), there’s little doubt that many of the store’s workers are stuck below the  poverty line , currently $23,550 for a family of four.

A study by congressional Democrats suggested that low wages at a single Wal-Mart could be costing taxpayers as much as $900,000 per year, due to employees using programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

"When low wages leave Wal-Mart workers unable to afford the necessities of life, taxpayers pick up the tab," the report said.

Wal-Mart disputes the study's findings. The company is admittedly one of the biggest benefactors of the government's welfare dollars, however.  Wal-Mart estimates that about 18% of the nation’s food stamps are spent in its stores.



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