Posts tagged with: Activist shareholder

Scarlett-Johansson-sodastream-super-bowlEnough time has passed for this Denver Broncos fan to address a kerfuffle surrounding this year’s Super Bowl. I’m writing, of course, about Hollywood siren and liberal activist Scarlett Johansson, who appeared in a Super Bowl SodaStream commercial to the chagrin of international charity Oxfam for which the otherworldly beauty served nine years as official spokesperson.

Oxfam, listed in the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility’s 2014 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide “Guide to Sponsors,” told Johansson she had to choose between her gig with the charity or serving as pitchwoman for the company that markets a home-beverage carbonating product. Oxfam’s rationale was that SodaStream operated one of its 22 facilities worldwide in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Oxfam favors a two-state solution to the perpetual conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t know about readers of this site, but I know that when it comes to matters of major geopolitical importance this guy’s a sucker for international beverage boycotts.

In this regard, Oxfam employs much the same tactics as ICCR when it pushes its shareholder resolutions at companies regardless the consequences to the very same people they’re attempting to assist. (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…)

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…)

Reading the 2013 results of proxy shareholder resolutions orchestrated by various leftist organizations affiliated with “religiously” oriented investment groups, a colorfully descriptive phrase came to mind to describe both: Whatever its derivation, useful idiots is employed as “a pejorative term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.”

For the purposes of this post, we’ll grant groups with purported religious and socially conscious authority such as Walden Asset Management, Trillium Asset Management, As You Sow and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility the benefit of the doubt. We’re not questioning the quality of their faith or the depth of their social concern. But their political agitation is fair game for a thorough critique. And it is clear that these groups have a major blind spot when it comes to financier George Soros.  Soros, one may recall, is the Hungarian-born multibillionaire responsible for funding radical leftist causes, including the Center for Political Accountability, Common Cause, Media Matters, Planned Parenthood and ACORN and various and other sullied causes. The man, it should be noted, also amasses vast wealth by, in part, heavily investing in the energy sector.

It is the Center for Political Accountability, however, upon which I focus today. As noted previously, CPA’s Bruce Freed authored many of the shareholder resolutions introduced by faith-based activist shareholders gathered together to quiet corporate political speech as well as derail profits and place expensive speed bumps in the paths of companies in direct competition with Soros’ financial interests. Doubt it? Herewith from Ceres’ website:

Investors achieved noteworthy victories during this year’s shareholder proxy season, with a near record 110 shareholder resolutions filed with 94 U.S. companies on hydraulic fracturing, flaring, fossil fuel reserve risks and other climate – and sustainability – related risks and opportunities….

Filers of the resolutions include some of the nation’s largest public pension funds, such as the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the New York State and New York City Comptrollers’ Offices; socially responsible investors such as Green Century Capital Management and Trillium Asset Management; and religious, labor and other institutional investors, who collectively manage more than $500 billion in assets.

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Shareholder activism, according to the headline in the most recent issue of PRWeek, is “rising” and “big companies [are] in crosshairs.” The ensuing article by Brittaney Kiefer, begins:

Shareholder activism used to be just a nuisance that arose during proxy season, involving a group of contentious investors who tended to target smaller or less established companies.

However, in recent years activists have set their sights on larger companies, and more traditional investors are joining those fights. As shareholder activism goes mainstream, companies are becoming more proactive in engaging investors year-round, communications professionals say.

Ms. Kiefer’s article is a fine example of objective reporting on the growing trend of shareholder activism, but she avoids untangling the Gordian knot of interests behind these increasingly concerted efforts by leftist activists. These efforts include the recruitment of such religious-based investment groups as Walden Asset Management, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Needmor Fund and various and sundry Unitarian Universalist collectives to sprinkle – albeit disingenuously – holy water on the whole progressive agenda. Explains Kiefer:

An activist shareholder is an investor who attempts to use his or her stake in a publicly traded corporation to affect change at the company. Activists often launch campaigns that put public pressure on companies, tackling issues such as executive compensation, management structure, or corporate strategy.

Sounds rather benign, no? Actually, as noted here and here, these groups have metastasized from mere nuisance to genuine threats to not only corporate (and shareholder) profitability, but to free speech (including scientific debate) and helping the nation’s (and world’s) poorest. (more…)

The Aug. 26 edition of the Wall Street Journal features a compelling opinion piece by Susan Combs, the Texas comptroller of public accounts. Ms. Combs correctly assesses the inherent responsibility of public pension funds to the businesses in which they hold shares. Namely, they should ensure company profitability rather than push agendas that may harm market share and growth.

Just so. Writes Combs: “Not long ago, people who used their few shares to push a point at shareholder meetings may have been marginalized as oddballs. Today, hedge funds and other major players are using their clout to lobby for – and get – big changes in corporate governance.”

Whatever this activism has to do with the ethical obligations of shareholders to one another is beyond the comprehension of Combs and, frankly, your writer. Such has been one theme of my repeated cavils related to the so-called religious-based shareholder activists who submit proxy resolutions year after year related to overturning Citizens United, limiting the depiction of tobacco use in film and television, curtailing hydraulic fracturing and taking expensive measures to avert global warming.

One may agree or disagree with the activists’ point-of-view on any of these given topics, but as Combs notes:

Putting public funds in the activist arena in this way strikes me as seriously bad policy. As the comptroller of public accounts for the state of Texas, I have to manage billions of dollars in taxpayer money, and I have a fiduciary obligation to achieve the very best returns possible. This is a rock-bottom, non-negotiable duty that goes with the office. Our “shareholders” are the tax-paying public.

The same holds for private investments made on behalf of clergy, nuns, and other religious. Many investment opportunities exist for companies more than willing to comply with ill-founded science, questionable public policy, and social progressivism. (more…)

In a May 28, Huffington Post article, Rev. Seamus P. Finn, OMI, exhibits a woeful lack of economic knowledge. In most cases members of the clergy can be forgiven somewhat for getting it so utterly and completely wrong. After all, few people go into the ministry because they’re fascinated with things like lean manufacturing techniques or monetary policy. But in this instance Finn must be taken to the proverbial woodshed for a lesson in what truly benefits the world’s poor.

Why Finn and why now, you ask? Most important, because he represents the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and represents the Oblates as a board member at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. He also serves on the executive committee of the International Interfaith Investment Group (IIIG). From this resume, one might gather that he is influential with the faithful on financial and business matters.

PowerBlog readers who have been following my series of posts on religious-based shareholder activism these past few months may recall my coverage of several ICCR proxy resolutions submitted to a host of companies this spring. I called attention to these resolutions because they draw more from leftist ideology than they do from centuries of deeper Christian thinking on social problems.

Now comes Finn with a HuffPo piece linking ICCR and IIIG initiatives with recent statements made by Pope Francis. While the current pope is no fan of capitalism – read about his views of the market economy here and here on the PowerBlog – Finn apparently despises it outright. (more…)

There has been ample evidence presented in the past several years to suggest shareholder activism exhibited via proxy resolutions not only wastes time but, as well, corporate funds. And yet, unions and “social justice” advocates such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and As You Sow perpetuate the practice to the detriment of targeted companies.

And, according to a recently released study, this activism also works to the shareholders’ detriment as well. In effect, these proxy resolutions shoot the shareholder perpetrators in their own collective foot by reducing the profitability of the companies in which they hold stock – while simultaneously wounding other shareholders who don’t necessarily share the whole leftist/liberal magilla against hydraulic fracturing, free political speech and genetically modified organisms while advocating for network neutrality.

“Analysis of the Wealth Effects of Shareholder Proposals – Volume III” was released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative on May 2. The study was conducted by Navigant Consulting’s Allan T. Ingraham, Ph.D., and Anna Koyfman, whose analysis of proxy resolutions by shareholder activists concludes:

[T]here is no conclusive evidence of measurable improvements in (short-term or long-term) stock market or (long-term) operating performance in target companies as a result of shareholder proposals. Therefore, we find no evidence that shareholder activism has a positive impact either on firms or on the entities offering shareholder resolutions. (more…)

The progressive politicization of certain religious orders hurries apace, especially as we enter the season of shareholder activism, proxy ballot initiatives and “corporate social responsibility” lectures from religious groups and churches. This year may generate even more activity as a result of the left’s renewed efforts to undermine Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission.

Because many religious organizations are also shareholders in public corporations, their investments grant them a proxy voice in corporate policies. Unfortunately, this voice too often is used to promote policies that are often indistinguishable from secular-left political causes and may have little connection to the tenets of their respective faiths.

One oft-stated goal of these activists is “transparency.” They claim to rectify the perception the Supreme Court ruled erroneously in Citizens United when it declared unconstitutional the placing of limits on corporate and union political spending. But these attempts to pass transparency rules and regulations extend far beyond mere campaign funding by requiring that all corporations publicly divulge the recipients of their charitable giving. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2012

For many nuns in the U.S. April is a busy month. Not only do they have the liturgical season of Easter but they have the proxy season of corporate governance.

The proxy season is the time when many companies hold their annual shareholder meetings. During these meeting any shareholders who own more than $2,000 in stock or 1% of the company can recommend the company take a specific course of action or institute a policy change for the betterment of the company. As the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy reports, Catholic orders are among the most active of these shareholder activists.

As far as activism goes, shareholder activism is rather inert. To date shareholders have introduced only 1.43 proposals per company in the Fortune 200. The most active religious organization, the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, submitted a total of 21.

In their lengthy report, the Manhattan Institute (MI) admits that shareholder proposals are rarely submitted, rarely adopted, and submitted by a small group of activists. MI also notes that while the idea that “maximizing share price is the sole fiduciary duty of corporate managers” has been a “long-standing norm in the American securities” there has been push in the past two decades for the idea that “the duty of management ought to extend beyond shareholders and share value to the interests of a broader class of ‘stakeholders.’”

The reality is that management has always taken the “interests of a broader class of ‘stakeholders’” into account when making decisions. Stakeholders include employees, suppliers, the local community, politicians, and—most substantially—the managers themselves. Indeed, you’re more likely to hear about “corporate social responsibility” today than you are “maximizing shareholder wealth.”
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