Acton Institute Powerblog

Religious Shareholder Activists: Enemies of Debate

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From the time your writer opted to publicly proclaim his policy opinions in a variety of forums that are privately funded, he has incurred estrangement from ideologically opposed friends and family members, as well as receiving threatening emails and even frightening phone calls from complete strangers.

From the above experiences, it was easy to glean progressives can be very nasty (comments I receive often remark negatively on my choice of eyewear). Most tellingly, however, presume to know the private funding sources for the think tanks wherefrom much of my opinionated work emanates.

This last serves two purposes. The first is to discredit personal opinions as merely corporate or political propaganda. It’s a silly tactic to be sure, but one employed often against writers in the public sphere. The second is to name and shame any company or individual with which the progressives in question disagree. These enemies of debate, which include religious shareholder activists affiliated with As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, cannot abide private giving to causes with which they disagree.

Take, for example, this boilerplate paragraph from an AYS shareholder proxy resolution submitted to Dupont:

Consequently, companies that contribute to controversial public policy or candidate elections risk alienating a consumer base that is widely opposed to corporate money in politics. For example, retail chain Target faced in-store protests, national news coverage, and viral internet exposure in 2010 after reports surfaced that the company donated $150,000 to an organization backing a Republican candidate with a long record of opposing gay rights. The company publicly apologized, and committed to reforming the review process for future political donations.

The Target controversy, as noted previously by this writer, involved the company’s support for a candidate with strong free-market credentials and conservative social values. This, to some, is “controversial”:

In such a scenario, a company may support a candidate with very solid free-market credentials that could benefit the company, its customers, employees and shareholders. However, the same candidate might anger activists over a position taken on a completely unrelated but emotionally charged issue. In such instances, those opposing the candidate’s stance on the latter issue have mounted boycotts against the company that might actually agree with the activists, but views its duty to shareholders to support the candidate with stronger free-market values. The tactic goes like this: Disagree with a candidate on one issue, and target the candidate’s donors for a boycott. This “name and shame” tactic increasingly is employed against companies seeking nothing more than promoting their shareholders’ best interests.

Never mind AYS is a group of shareholders acting against the best interest of its fellow shareholders. In short, such activities are all about stifling debate and punishing those with whom the progressives disagree. This doesn’t stop at billionaires such as Charles and David Koch, either. Many smaller fish have been grilled on the pyre of progressive zealotry. For example, The New York Times reported in 2008:

The artistic director of the California Musical Theater, a major nonprofit producing company here in the state’s capital, resigned on Wednesday in the face of growing outrage over his support for a ballot measure this month that outlawed same-sex marriage in California.

The artistic director, Scott Eckern, came under fire recently after it became known that he contributed $1,000 to support Proposition 8, which amended the state Constitution to recognize only male-female marriages. The measure was approved by 52 percent of California voters on Election Day. (Same-sex marriages had been performed in California since June.)

Shades of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who suffered similar ignominy for the same donation amount to Proposition 8.

This is not about protecting only conservative causes, however. It’s about protecting the privacy of every individual who chooses to participate in the political and public policy process. Just as there is no such thing as “dark voting” when conducted in private, there can be no “dark money” when individuals contribute to their respective causes and candidates. It’s a shame AYS and ICCR are acting as enemies of debate.

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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