Category: Shareholder Activism

Shortly after filing my blog yesterday, the New York Times’ David Firestone added another wrinkle. It seems liberal billionaires also contribute millions of dollars to voice their strongly held beliefs regarding climate change:

Those who are worried about man-made climate change might be tempted to welcome the news that Tom Steyer, a Democratic billionaire, will spend $100 million this year to fight it. Mr. Steyer plans to put up half the money himself for attack ads against governors and lawmakers who ignore climate change, and will raise the rest from like-minded rich people.

Yet, the religious shareholders filing proxy resolutions from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Tri-State Coalition on Responsible Investment persist in their handwringing over campaign and lobbying monies contributed by libertarian and business-friendly individuals and institutions. Since the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling, however, money from the left is just as – if not more – pervasive, according to Alan Suderberg and Ben Weider of the Center for Public Integrity.

Since the Supreme Court loosened rules on political spending in 2010, the Republican Party, boosted by corporate and billionaire backers, has been painted as the biggest beneficiary. But in New Hampshire and a handful of other states in 2012, Democrats flipped the script.

In New Hampshire, groups backing Democrats reported spending nearly $1 million more than their Republican counterparts.

Nonprofits, super PACs, and other non-candidate groups reported spending at least $209 million to influence elections in 38 states, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP) and state elections offices.

Pro-Democratic groups, many associated with unions, outspent their Republican counterparts by more than $8 million, according to the Center’s analysis. (more…)

“A little older, a little more confused,” the late Dennis Hopper once intoned. One month into 2014, the same could be said for this writer. After all, what could be more confusing than members of the religious community employed as willing conspirators in the great organized labor gambit to stifle corporate political speech? Year after year, however, that’s increasingly the case.

For example, the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility’s recently redesigned website heralds its distaste for corporate participation in the political process:

Unchecked corporate cash in the form of political donations and lobbying expenditures has the power to exert undue influence over public policy and regulatory systems and threaten our democracy. Yet in spite of this power, most S&P 500 companies lack a formal system of lobbying oversight and don’t fully disclose how monies are being spent, particularly through third-party organizations like trade associations. Investors are concerned that lobbying expenditures may inadvertently be diverted to groups advancing agendas contrary to the stated missions of companies, setting up potential conflicts of interest and exposing companies to reputational risk. (more…)

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Friday, December 20, 2013

ballotAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to inventory the year’s proxy resolutions introduced by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. ICCR, a group purportedly acting on religious principles and faith, is actually nothing more than a shareholder activist group engaged in the advancement of leftist causes at the expense of their fellow shareholders and the world’s poorest.

ICCR recently released its 2013 Annual Report. Its “2013 Proxy Season Recap” (pp. 16, 17) presents a snapshot of initiatives ICCR members pursued this past year. The foundations for several categories betray the left’s tenuous grasp of science and economics while, at the same time, displaying a perverse naiveté regarding the potential negative consequences of their respective crusades.

Fortunately, all the worst proposals failed. As noted previously, ICCR shareholder resolutions are drafted by Bruce Freed, president of the George Soros-funded Center for Political Accountability (CPA). Both Freed and ICCR boast huge successes for their resolutions, assertions that rely on extremely fuzzy methodology that excludes abstention votes. (more…)

No! Not the Dark Money!

No! Not the Dark Money!

“Dark money” sounds menacing and foreboding – a financial nomenclature suggestive of gothic masterpieces like “The Raven” and “The Black Cat.” Whereas Poe’s tales actually contain sinister elements, the phrase dark money is employed by activist shareholders much like the villains of countless “Scooby Doo” cartoons devised illusory ghosts, werewolves and vampires. The evildoers wanted to scare those meddlesome Mystery Machine kids from nefarious moneymaking schemes.

The anti-capitalism messages of “Scooby Doo” are repeated by those ominously intoning the perceived evils of so-called dark money in politics. In ordinary political usage, dark money refers to funds raised to finance an election campaign or ballot initiative without any requirement of public disclosure before voters decide the question.

Shareholder activists have torn a well-worn page from the “Scooby Doo” playbook by adopting the tactics of the show’s bad guys. These tactics include attempts to frighten voters with the dark money bogeyman, who lurks behind other pet issues such as genetically modified organisms and fracking (hydraulic fracturing). (more…)

birdsflock“Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together,” wrote William Turner in 1545. If he were with us today, the author might construct an interesting Venn diagram representing the activist birds scheduled to testify tomorrow before the Securities and Exchange Commission. But, rather than briefly overlapping sets of circles, the SEC witnesses for greater corporate “disclosure” comprise one giant bubble of activists seeking to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling, including Laura Berry, executive director, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Berry joins a gaggle of like-minded individuals who somehow think the country benefits from forcing “publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending,” according to a joint Public Citizen’s Congress Watch/Columbia Law School Public Affairs media advisory. Among Berry’s peeps clamoring for tightening SEC rules are Heidi Welsh, Sustainable Investments Institute; Pat Doherty, Office of the New York State Comptroller; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). (more…)

3708GSD_21136_CheerLH_V10L.tifThe 2013 proxy shareholder season is over, resolutions debated into their respective win/loss columns and reports filed. This hasn’t stopped those shareholder Godflies – the clergy, nuns and other religious on the left – from firing the first salvos for 2014 corporate battles. Among the companies targeted for the initial fusillade is General Mills Inc., purveyor of such perceived market atrocities as the Cheerios breakfast cereal and Yoplait yogurt. Specifically, the company’s packaging practices and use of genetically modified organisms has come under fire

Mind you, your writer has nothing against reasonably priced foods as part of a healthy, affordable breakfast. In fact, Cheerios was a “get-up-and-go” staple of this former farm boy’s life. Continuing the trend, a bag of those little grainy nuggets of morning goodness served church going well by quieting my rambunctious toddlers during innumerable Sunday masses. I do, however, rankle when so-called “religious” activists employ bad science to drive up food prices for those least able to afford it, especially families with young children.

As You Sow, a nonprofit shareholder advocacy group allied with such Godflies as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and “social responsibility investment” firms Walden Asset Management and Trillium Asset Management presented a resolution to General Mills this past month that would have required the company to implement “extended producer responsibility” for packaging waste. Apparently, it’s incumbent upon the company to ensure cereal boxes and yogurt cups are recycled once consumers empty them. (more…)

Readers following my series of blog posts on shareholder proxy resolutions submitted by religious groups such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility already know these resolutions have little to do with issues of faith. In fact, an overwhelming majority of these resolutions concern corporate speech and attempts to stifle it.

Your shareholders want to know more about your political spending. Really.

Your shareholders want to know more about your political spending. Really.

AYS and ICCR – as well as a host of other religious shareholders – submit proposals drafted by Bruce Freed, head of the Center for Political Accountability. Freed’s CPA and the Wharton Business School’s Zicklin Center, readers will recall, issued its annual index late last month. My last post detailed in part the wrongheadedness of shareholders pushing a political agenda at the expense of their fellow shareholders. However, I anticipate most readers require a bit more than your lowly scribe’s word that the CPA-Zicklin Index not only inflates the results of its shareholder resolutions but as well operates on behalf of groups more interested in shutting down corporate political speech.

The Center for Competitive Politics, a First Amendment nonprofit think tank located in Alexandria, Va., brings more firepower to arguments I’ve already made regarding the efforts of CPA and the proxy shareholders for whom Mr. Freed drafts resolutions. Regarding the CPA-Zicklin Index, CCP issued a statement by CCP Chairman Brad Smith, former Federal Election Commission Chairman:

To look at the CPA-Zicklin Index as a measure of ‘best corporate practices’ is like asking a wolf to describe ‘best practices’ for sheep … Corporations have an obligation to do what is in the best interest of their shareholders, not comply with the demands of a non- profit that opposes speech by the business community. (more…)

Religious shareholder activists are portrayed as modern-day Davids who take on corporate Goliaths. The reality is they are Davids serving a Goliath of a different stripe.

Religious shareholder activists are portrayed as modern-day Davids who take on corporate Goliaths. The reality is they are Davids serving a Goliath of a different stripe.

When graying cohorts of nuns, priests, clergy and other religious proxy shareholders hitched their wagon to the Center for Political Accountability’s crusade against Citizens United and corporate political spending, it was reported by most news sources as cute and endearing. After all, it’s a bit of the David v. Goliath scenario playing out as the faith-based underdogs take on companies with sinister motives and deep pockets full of “dark money” which they spread around to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican candidates and other bêtes noires of the left.

If one reads the media reports following the release this week of the 2013 “CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Policy Accountability and Disclosure” you’d think little David scored big-time with a single stone fired from CPA’s sling at the corporate American Goliath. Well . . . yes. And no. Yes, in that some companies capitulated to CPA and proxy shareholders for more transparency. No, in that many other companies held fast to privacies guaranteed by Citizens United despite the onslaught of proxy resolutions submitted by a matrix of leftist organizations, which includes the nominally religious-based investment groups As You Sow and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility. Little David is indeed far more of a Goliath than the general public has been led to believe.
(more…)

The 2013 “CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Policy Accountability and Disclosure” was issued Tuesday by the allegedly “nonpartisan” Center for Corporate Political Accountability – the “CPA” of the report’s title lest readers mistakenly read it as the objective analysis of a certified public accountant. The CPA referenced here is the organization operated by Bruce Freed, which shepherds proxy shareholder resolutions by left leaning “religious” shareholder activist groups as As You Sow and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility.

I haven’t taken the time for a deep-dive analysis of the report, but will do so most assuredly in the next few days. However, an initial reading of the Index’s Executive Summary must suffice for the moment. In short … poppycock. And piffle. Even preposterous.

Allow me to set the record straight. Ten years ago, CPA “began engaging corporations to voluntarily provide disclosure and oversight of political spending,” asserts Mr. Freed – if by “voluntarily” Mr. Freed means mounting a campaign of deceit against corporate political spending employing all means necessary to embarrass or otherwise shame companies to bend to the will of leftist, post-Citizens United, “corporations/bad. unions/good” ideology.

Mr. Freed and the faith-based shareholders for whom he writes proxy resolutions remain in a tizzy regarding those companies that spend lobbying or other political cash on causes and campaigns with which the left disapproves. In an environment of growing Leviathan and concomitant increase in regulatory restrictions emanating from government agencies, companies have little choice to ensure their own and employees’ survival as well as the profitability of shareholders than to engage in the political process. Indeed, to voluntarily withdraw from these policy debates would be nothing less than reckless disregard for political reality today.

So let’s break this down further: Unions spend members’ dues on political causes that tilt left whereas corporations spend company proceeds on causes that tilt right. Union spending rarely is called into question as it’s a given they’ll spend it on liberal candidates and agendas. Woe be unto those corporations, however, which endeavor to engage politically – even  privately – in the interest of their companies, employees, customers and shareholders. (more…)

Shareholders’ boardroom clout increases” touts the website at the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility The linked article takes readers to an August 20 essay by Sara Murphy at The Motley Fool in which the author asserts: “New research out today from the Sustainable Investments Institute, or Si2, shows that investors are filing more environmentally and socially themed shareholder resolutions now than ever before, and those resolutions are getting more support during proxy voting than they ever have.”

Not so fast, Ms. Murphy. This week another story unfolded, courtesy of The Manhattan Institute Center for Legal Policy. MI’s third annual Proxy Monitor, authored by James R. Copland and Margaret M. O’Keefe, counters the ICCR and Murphy narrative significantly. It appears the ICCR folk were distracted after reading the reports first finding:

The number of shareholder proposals introduced is up. The average Fortune 250 company faced 1.26 shareholder proposals on its 2013 proxy statement, up slightly from 1.22 proposals per company in 2012. This trend also holds when considering the 104 proposals excluded from proxy ballots after companies received a letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission assuring them that the agency would take no action against the company due to the proposal’s procedural or substantive defects.

So distracted by the presumed good news, in fact, they neglected to read the subsequent findings:

Support for shareholder proposals is down. Only 7 percent of shareholder proposals received the backing of a majority of shareholders in 2013, down from 9 percent in 2012. A smaller percentage of shareholder proposals passed in 2013 than in any other year in the 2006–13 period. Among the 20 proposals receiving majority support, 13 involved just two issues: whether to elect all corporate directors annually and whether each director should be required to receive a majority of votes cast to be elected.

And this: (more…)