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How Far Does Faith-Based ‘Shareholder Right to Know’ Go?

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On January 31, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility issued a press release, announcing the organization’s “2013 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide.” A quick read of the release and ancillary materials, however, reveals that these resolutions have very little to do with issues of religious faith and everything to do with the progressive political agenda.

The ICCR guide “features 180 resolutions filed at 127 companies” that call on shareholders to “promote corporate responsibility by voting their proxies in support of investor proposals that advance social, economic and environmental justice.”

The ICCR boasts that “nearly one third” of this year’s resolutions (52) focus on lobbying and political spending, with the remainder aimed at “health care, financial and environmental reform.” The release ominously asserts: “Shareholders have a right to know whether company resources are being used to impact elections and public policy, including regulatory legislation.”

Whatsoever the ICCR resolutions have to do with the respective tenets of their member denominations is left to the readers’ imagination.

Under the guise of faith-based “economic and social justice,” however, the ICCR is attempting to prevent corporations from engaging in entirely legal and ethical efforts to work on their shareholders’ and customers’ behalf. As noted previously, initiatives such as the ICCR’s are an effort to force corporations to disclose efforts on their part to ensure corporate sustainability and shareholder profitability – endeavors protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Forcing corporations to disclose donations to the American Legislative Exchange Council, lobbying firms, think tanks and trade groups, for example, flies in the face of U.S. law, and hinders these groups from exercising constitutionally guaranteed rights to work for the benefit of the corporations who create jobs and provide goods and services for the world’s citizenry.

All this presupposes corporations and the wealth, jobs, goods and services they generate are an inherent evil if found lacking the ICCR’s views on social, economic and environmental justice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from a few admittedly bad actors, corporations strive to benefit society as a whole – failure to do so would assuredly result in most companies winding up atop the dustbin of entrepreneurial history.

In any event, steering corporate policies to reflect ICCR’s progressive agenda would result in more of a secular rather than a spiritual victory. Such efforts, in Competitive Enterprise Institute President and Co-Founder Fred L. Smith’s words, have a tendency to transform private corporations into public utilities by forcing them “to perform whatever duties are politically attractive at any one time … To ‘socialize’ this process is to reduce the ability of individuals to advance their goals, placing the values of politicians as paramount.”

Hamstringing a company’s efforts to pursue less egregious regulatory enforcement through lobbying or draft legislation, for example, establishes more government authority not necessarily in the best interests of the corporation in question. Nor is it likely that politicians and bureaucrats understand fully the unanticipated negative consequences of realizing their goals. As Smith noted: “The corporation is an extremely valuable way of organizing large numbers of people to produce goods and services efficiently—that is, to create wealth. That wealth then flows into the hands of shareholders, workers, customers, and suppliers, who are then empowered to advance their own individual goals and values.”

The ICCR would do far better by following real religious authority rather than submitting to trendy secular tracts on what constitutes economic, environmental and social justice. Two papal encyclicals immediately come to mind: Quadragesimo anno (Pius XI, 1931) and Centesimus annus (John Paul II, 1991).

While both works identify the proper societal role of companies as working for the common good, they also acknowledge the necessity of the profit motive for all involved. Nowhere in either document, however, do the authors make a case for transparency of how corporations advocate in best interests of their shareholders and customers.

Bruce Edward Walker Bruce Edward Walker has more than 20 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." Most recently, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. Prior to assuming that role, he served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. He is also a member of the marketing advisory committee of Tomorrow’s Child, a Lansing, Mich.-based research and education organization dealing with infant mortality issues. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich.


  • Rusty Leonard

    I am a former Templeton portfolio manager who left the firm in 2000 to offer Christians an alternative to the “Socially Responsible Investing” (SRI) offered by the ICCR. We call what we do “Biblically Responsible Investing” (BRI). Our focus is on corporate support abortion, homosexuality, porn, human rights issues and others. It is our hope that we might be able to help those Christians with a conservative view of the world to stand in the gap for these issues in the corporate sector. While much of conservative Christian efforts have been centered on the legislative and judicial arenas over the last few decades, the liberal efforts in the corporate sector of our economy have been far more effective in bringing about cultural change. And, sadly, we conservatives still do not even realize it. Instead, we turn our wealth over to money management firms that are liberal in their essence and vote our proxies in a manner that endorses liberal solutions that we already know will not work and which are doing much to undermine what our Lord is trying to accomplish on this earth. If you check out the membership of the ICCR you will see any number of Catholic institutions there despite the pro-abortion, far left policies the ICCR promotes. It is really quite bizarre. It is also equally bizarre that there is no effective BRI group in existence to promote conservative Christian principles. The reason for this as I have found over the last 13 years is that conservative Christian institutions like Christian foundations and Christian colleges have no desire to manage their money in a way that reflects their views while the left has no problem with doing so. Thus, we have left the corporate sector entirely in the hands of the left and have even turned our wealth over to them so that they can use it against what we believe! I have been and continue to be interested in offering a conservative Christian solution. I am the CEO of the Biblically Responsible Investing Institute (BRII) which maintains a database on the behaviors of public companies that may be of concern to conservative Christians and also am founder and CEO of Stewardship Partners, a money management firm that invests using the BRI Institute’s data. If I can be of any assistance, please let me know. Rusty Leonard –

  • BruceEdwardWalker

    Thank you, Mr. Leonard, for your considered response. It sounds to me as if your efforts are extremely worthwhile. It definitely warrants further research on my part. If I’m correct, I wish you well and your company future success!

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