Posts tagged with: shareholder activism

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?


Your writer has been telling readers for some time now that so-called “religious” shareholder activism is more political than spiritual. I’ve also pointed out time and again that the priests, nuns, clergy, and religious affiliated with such shareholder groups as As You Sow are opposed to corporate donations to political activities only when it suits them.

This last point was clarified recently by events in Arizona. First Affirmative Investments and Calvert Investments joined AYS in an attempt to force Arizona Public Service Company and its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., to disclose whether either had donated money to the Free Enterprise Club, a 501c(4) nonprofit. It seems FEC provided funding to candidates campaigning for seats on the Arizona Regulatory Commission, and the source of the “dark money” disbursed by FEC to the candidates may or may not have come from APSC and Pinnacle. The kerfuffle stems from suspicions voiced by a Washington, D.C. outfit, the Checks and Balances Project, that an Arizona Corporation Commission official breached ethics or broke the law by communicating with APS and FEC.

Confused? Don’t be. The Arizona Attorney General is sussing out whether the official actually broke the law. The remainder of the story boils down to the left’s distaste for private political donations, which have been protected since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Citizens United. (more…)

The release last week of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si unleashed a heaven-rending chorus of hallelujahs from the religious left. The activist shareholder investors in the choir loft, those affiliated with the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, were no exception. No sooner had the ink dried on the paper on which the encyclical’s printed than ICCR members hauled out the hyperbole. For example:

Nora M Nash, OSF: Laudato Sii (Be Praised) will rise up and the cry of Mother Earth will be heard once again from the Amazon Rainforest to the Tiadaghton Forest; from Navidad Bianco Shanty Town in Mexico to Rana Plaza in Bangladesh; from the Great Mississippi to the Three Gorges Dam; from the oil fields of Alaska to mines of the Central African Republic. A new “Canticle of the Sun” will promote dynamic engagement across our fragile global community.

And this hubristic howler:

Zevin Asset Management: Zevin Asset Management is proud to be joined by Pope Francis in our focus on the urgency of climate change. The Papal Encyclical is evidence of the universal nature of the problem and we are hopeful it will inspire universal solutions. We anticipate that it will direct more investors to take up the issue of climate change solutions in their investment decisions.

To which this writer can only respond (sarcastically, of course): “Wow, the Pope is climbing aboard the Zevin bandwagon? Well, it’s about time!” (more…)

figure6Religious shareholder activists continuously sing from a counterintuitive hymnal that asserts genetically modified organisms somehow are detrimental to the environment, the financial well-being of the companies relying on GMOs and those people who eat foods containing GMOs. For example, religious shareholder activist group As You Sow boasts on its website:

As You Sow has organized an investor letter sent to the top 50 corporate opponents of GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California (Proposition 37) and Washington (Initiative 522). The letter to public companies was signed by 45 wealth management and investor advocacy groups representing $36 billion, while the letter to private companies was signed by 38 groups representing $18 billion.

The letter describes the American public’s deeply unfavorable opinion of corporate money in politics, and the backlash suffered by companies that spent corporate funds to oppose Proposition 37 and Initiative 522. Investors are concerned that draining corporate funds to oppose these initiatives is especially unproductive as GMO labeling laws and bans continue to gain momentum, including a recent labeling law in Vermont and two countywide cultivation bans in Oregon.


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…)

An apocryphal quote often (incorrectly it seems) attributed to John Maynard Keynes goes something like, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Eliot Ness, as portrayed by Kevin Costner in The Untouchables, answers a reporter’s question about the lawman’s plans once Prohibition is repealed: “I think I’ll have a drink.”

The point of these quotations, though fictional, is to draw attention to the virtue of intellectual honesty.  For real-world, verifiable intellectual honesty one can turn to a June 13, FrontPage essay by Arnold Ahlert. In it, Ahlert names leftist environmental activists who actually did change their minds in accordance with a deeper understanding of facts.

Unfortunately missing from Ahlert’s roll call are those religious and clergy affiliated with the Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility and other organizations that submit proxy shareholder resolutions for a variety of leftist environmental causes having nothing to do with verifiable science and everything to do with a radical, misinformed and secular view that has more to do with worshiping Mother Earth rather than God. (more…)

Last week, Verizon Communications Inc. shareholders rejected a wireless network neutrality proxy resolution from two prominent Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility members, Nathan Cummings Foundation and Trillium Asset Management Corporation.

As this writer noted in a March 28, 2013, blog post concerning a similar proxy resolution submitted to AT&T Inc., advocacy of network neutrality is far removed from the ICCR’s goals of furthering social justice because it kills jobs, deters technical innovations and drives up consumer bills.  The NCF and TAMC resolutions singling out Verizon, however, are even more ludicrous as the company still awaits its day in court to appeal net neutrality rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.

Got that? The shareholders wanted Verizon to adopt the very same rules for its wireless service that it’s battling against for its wired networks in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The NCF/TAMC resolution reads, in part:

Verizon’s stated policies for customers who access the Internet via wireless devices are markedly different from those for customers who access the Internet via wired networks.

For example, on its web site the Company offers customers who gain Internet access via its wired network a “commitment” which includes: “We will not prevent you or other users of our service from sending and receiving the lawful content of your choice; running lawful applications and using lawful services of your choice…” and “We will disclose the types of practices that we use to manage our network…”

Wireless customers, however, are given no such assurances.  The Company tells wireless customers: “We will continue to disclose accurate and relevant information in plain language about the characteristics and capabilities of our service offerings so you and other users of our service can make informed choices.”

As investors, we are deeply concerned about this disparity in principles, policies and practices.  In light of potential reputational, regulatory, and legislative risk related to Verizon’s network management practices and the issue of network neutrality, this disparity is troubling.

There may also be reputational and commercial risk in not providing customers with evidence of open Internet policies.  On its public policy blog, a Verizon executive describes a high level of competition in the wireless market and says consumers “can vote with their feet if they want to” by choosing another wireless provider. (more…)

As keystroke was committed to screen in the writing of this post, J.C. Penney honcho Ron Johnson received his walking papers. This after it was announced last week that the ousted CEO had his pay cut 90 percent– tanking his 2012 salary to a mere $1.9 million from a sum north of $50 million in 2011.

With numbers like that, Johnson more than likely won’t apply for unemployment benefits anytime soon. But his compensation unfortunately will add more fuel to the fire of those proxy shareholders advocating for “say on pay” rules for upper management.

For example, The Nathan Cummings Foundation submitted a proxy shareholder resolution to Caterpillar Inc. that reads: “The shareholders … ask the board of directors to adopt a policy that incentive compensation for senior executives should include a range of non-financial measures based on sustainability principles and reducing any negative environmental impacts related to Company operations.”

According to its website, NCF “is rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community. We seek to build a socially and economically just society that values nature and protects the ecological balance for future generations; promotes humane health care; and fosters arts and culture that enriches communities.” (more…)

Blurring the distinction between religious faith and totally unrelated political activism has attained new levels of absurdity during the 2013 proxy resolution voting season.

One needs look no further than the network neutrality proxy resolutions submitted to AT&T Inc. by a host of clergy and religious organizations for evidence. These groups assert that net neutrality – described in their resolution as “open Internet policies” – “help drive the economy, encourage innovation and reward investors” when nothing could be further from the truth on all three counts.

Instead, the only groups advocating for net neutrality are left-of-center organizations who wish to shackle the profitability of Internet providers and stifle the growth of what has become one-sixth of the nation’s economy over the past 20 years. Joining these organizations with the AT&T proxy resolutions are the following Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility members:

  • Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, Rose Marie Stallbaumer, OSB;
  • Trillium Asset Management Corporation, Jonas Kron;
  • Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, Sr. Henry Marie Zimmermann, OSB;
  • Christus Health, Delia Foster;
  • Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Carolyn Psencik;
  • Nathan Cummings Foundation, Laura Shaffer Campos;
  • Congregation of Benedictine Sisters, Boerne TX, Sr. Susan Mika, OSB.

The resolution filed by these groups reads: “AT&T expects mobile data traffic to grow more than eight times from 2011 levels.

“A critical factor in this growth is the open (non-discriminatory) architecture of the Internet. Non-discrimination principles are commonly referred to as ‘network neutrality’ and seek to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory treatment for all content.”

Keep in mind that Comcast sued the Federal Communications Commission over net neutrality regulations in 2010 – and won in a unanimous decision by the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (more…)

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued his diktat against 20-ounce soft drinks earlier this year, the negative public outcry was tremendous.

Now comes the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility with proxy shareholder resolutions aimed at PepsiCo, the parent company of Pepsi Cola, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Frito Lay and Gatorade. At issue is PepsiCo’s freely acknowledged use of genetically modified organisms in several of its products.

Apparently the ICCR takes umbrage with GMOs and, by extension, PepsiCo’s use thereof. The ICCR proxy resolution calls for PepsiCo to label all products containing GMOs.

Trouble is ICCR fails to make its case against the use of GMOs other than a list of studies offering inconclusive evidence. Additionally, ICCR doesn’t provide any theological underpinnings for its objections other than the shareholders’ respective religious affiliations.

The ICCR proxy resolution prompted Paul Boykas, PepsiCo vice president of Global Public Policy and Federal Government Affairs, to respond in a detailed letter on March 19. In his letter, Boykas states: (more…)