Acton Institute Powerblog

Religious Shareholders: Spiritual or Political?

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I have a friend who owns a vacation home that he rents out by the week and on weekends. It’s a cozy place surrounded by forest with access to one of the Great Lakes. It’s a perfect place to get away from it all, replenish the spirit and relax. The rent also helps my friend financially. Lately, however, he feels less inclined to offer his house to vacationers. It seems some of his renters take it upon themselves to move the furniture in his house in a fashion more to their liking. In one instance, a renter totally reconfigured all the cooking utensils, pots and pans in the kitchen cabinets and drawers.

Why would anyone spend precious vacation time and money only to rearrange someone else’s furniture and cookware? By the same token, why would anyone invest in a company only to introduce proxy resolutions that would negatively impact the company’s bottom line and decrease shareholder value? Wouldn’t that trip things up?

That, in effect, is what shareholder activists increasingly are doing – introducing resolutions for pet progressive campaigns targeted at such leftist bête noires as campaign finance and lobbying; climate change (including fossil-fuel divestment and hydraulic fracturing); executive pay; genetically modified organisms; and even depictions of cigarette smoking in movies.

Front and center in these exercises of corporate feng shui are “religious” investors, including As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Both have been exercising their presumed moral authority for decades against the best interests of companies, themselves and other investors to further leftist agendas.

ICCR’s mission, according to the Summer 2015 issue of its publication, The Corporate Examiner:

ICCR seeks a global community built on justice and sustainability through transformation of the corporate world by integrating social values into corporate and investor actions.

It’s quite interesting that a group convinced the worst thing to happen recently in U.S. politics is the infusion of corporate money post-Citizens United. These groups would anthropomorphize corporations to the extent it depicts businesses as potential vessels of “justice and sustainability” possessing “social values.”

Just what does ICCR mean when it talks about “justice and sustainability” and “social values” in the first place? If you’re a nun, priest, clergy or other religious, it’s presumed by some that those words are freighted with moral significance derived from Scripture and church doctrine. In reality, however, ICCR (and AYS) are little to nothing more than progressive-liberal activists seeking to impose a leftist agenda on corporate America. This agenda is politically radical rather than spiritual, habits and clerical collars aside.

For the purposes of this piece, let’s take one example from ICCR’s playbook – corporate lobbying expenditures, which is also in the latest Corporate Examiner:

Corporations lobby both directly and indirectly via third party groups to promote a legislative and regulatory environment that is more favorable to their businesses. Because there is often no transparency regarding how lobbying dollars are invested, investors seek greater disclosure to ensure that these funds are managed responsibly and not deployed to promote agendas that may run counter to a corporation’s publicly stated positions. As a result, broad-based investor support for lobbying disclosure resolutions has been growing steadily across many sectors. The average vote received by lobbying resolutions this year was 27.5%, a very strong show of support when one considers the majority of shares are held by management. A first-year CenterPoint resolution received just over 41%, as did an Ameren lobbying disclosure resolutions.

Ahhh, the old David Investors v. Goliath Corporate Management scenario. The 27.5 percent stone thrown by ICCR investors may be a significant minority, but it’s still large enough to warrant valuable time that could be better spent discussing actual corporate concerns. But who’s going to tell sweet little nuns to butt out of corporate lobbying? Readers may be able to suss out the ICCR strategy, which simply put is this: Employ clergy, nuns and other clergy as a Trojan Horse that grants unearned moral credence to progressive rather than religious-based causes; watch corporate management bend over backwards to avoid a certain public-relations disaster if management treats religious investors brusquely.

Perhaps it’s time the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission tightens its proxy resolution rules to restrict further AYS and ICCR members from moving around corporate furniture and kitchen staples simply to advance leftist causes at the very real monetary expense of companies and their more rational investors.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 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." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also 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. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. 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., with his wife Katherine.

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