Warren Buffett, currently the third-richest person on Earth, has pledged to donate over 99% of his fortune to charity.
The Berkshire Hathaway chairman and largest shareholder appears to be making good on that promise. As an example, last year Buffett donated $169 million to the NoVo Foundation, a charity run by his youngest son, Peter, and Peter’s wife, Jennifer.
Much of the NoVo Foundation’s money goes to important efforts like ending violence against women and protecting and empowering girls in developing nations. But there appears to be a dark side to Buffett’s apparent altruism.
Some of the foundation’s resources are directed towards radical activism that clearly benefits Buffett’s bottom line.
In fact, money Buffett donated to the NoVo Foundation has been used to attack companies that compete with Berkshire Hathaway’s subsidiaries and holdings.
For example, the NoVo Foundation funneled a combined $5 million in 2016 and 2017 to fund political activism and propaganda campaigns aimed at harming Walmart, as well as Sam’s Club, the chain of retail warehouse clubs owned and operated by Walmart.
In 2017, NoVo donated $3.5 million to the “Clean Clothes Campaign” managed by the liberal Tides Foundation. The Campaign has been extremely critical of Walmart, and seeks to target and investigate factories that produce textiles sold by the retailer. Walmart is mentioned by name 186 times on the Clean Clothes Campaign’s website.
The NoVo Foundation also allocated hundreds of thousands of Warren Buffett’s dollars to the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hasting’s College of Law; Jobs with Justice; A Better Balance; and the New World Foundation’s OUR Walmart campaign. All four projects directly attack Walmart and Sam’s Club. If successful, the campaigns would economically devastate the company through progressive schemes including forced unionization, a fiscally reckless minimum wage increase, and lenient attendance policies.
Why would the NoVo Foundation fund a series of crusades focused on ferociously targeting Walmart and Sam’s Club? It may have something to do with the fact that Berkshire Hathaway owns more than $1.7 billion worth of Costco stock and $858 million in Amazon shares.
Since Sam’s Club is Costco’s primary competitor in the warehouse club space, when Sam’s Club is the focus of a smear campaign, Costco – and Berkshire Hathaway – benefit.
Likewise, Walmart remains Amazon’s biggest rival. Policies that make doing business more expensive for Walmart means more money in the bank for the e-commerce giant…and for Warren Buffett.
It appears the attacks against Walmart and Sam’s Club weren’t the first time the NoVo Foundation slyly redirected more of Buffett’s “charitable contributions” in an attempt to further line the billionaire’s pockets.
The Dakota Access Pipeline, which recently began carrying oil from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois, was threatened and delayed by a series of professional and well-funded protests. Much of the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline activities were part of a campaign orchestrated by 350.org, an extremist organization that receives major funding from the Tides Foundation – which gets a large portion of its financial support from Buffett’s NoVo Foundation.
It appears NoVo’s interest in blocking the construction of the pipeline had more to do with protecting Berkshire Hathaway’s railroad interests than protecting the environment. Berkshire Hathaway owns Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, a railroad with existing infrastructure capable of delivering oil and natural gas from North Dakota to oil terminals in the Midwest.
If 350.org and the other well-funded anti-pipeline protesters supported by the NoVo Foundation had succeeded in killing the Dakota Access Pipeline, Berkshire Hathaway would have been positioned to make hundreds of millions of dollars transporting the oil – even though shipping oil by rail is much more dangerous for the environment than moving it via pipeline.
Unfortunately, the NoVo Foundation may just be getting started in its effort to manipulate public policy, distort the marketplace, and vilify private businesses. IRS documents from 2018 show the foundation is sitting on $536 million in assets – and Warren Buffett is likely to give the foundation hundreds of millions more in the coming years.
With that kind of money at its disposal, there’s no telling how low the NoVo Foundation will stoop in its shady attempt to benefit Berkshire Hathaway’s investments and harm its competitors.
Drew Johnson is a government watchdog who serves as a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.