Should corporate donations to political causes remain private or shouldn’t they? Your writer would argue for the former as he holds the U.S. Supreme Court nailed it with its Citizens United decision. Progressive shareholder activists, naturally, disagree.
Except, that is, when incredible secrecy suits progressive social and political ends. The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, for example, asserts Citizens United is the worst kind of travesty against all things they desire made transparent – as does ICCR member Walden Asset Management.
While “dark money” corporate donations give ICCR and WAM the Screaming Mimi’s, both groups are quiet as church mice when it comes to secretive funding of such progressive agendas as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. For example, ICCR and WAM haven’t uttered a peep concerning software magnate Tim Gill’s advocacy group OutGiving, a highly secretive group of millionaires who funnel money into campaigns supportive of LGBT causes and candidates likely to support them.
Each year, the religious members of ICCR submit proxy resolutions to companies in hopes they’ll throw privacy to the winds to appease them. In fact, ICCR clutches its collective pearls on the group’s website:
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.
ICCR further boasts its progressive bona fides:
Led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Walden Asset Management, ICCR members and other responsible investors are attempting to shine a light on corporate lobbying and political spending policies. Faith-based investors have filed shareholder resolutions with 19 companies. These proposals ask companies to disclose oversight policies and details around political donations and lobbying initiatives, including through trade associations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heartland Institute which spend heavily on ad campaigns designed to undercut regulations.
Now your writer thinks this all well and fine. He disagrees, but firmly holds reasonable people can and should do so freely. The key word is reasonable. When it comes to funding ALEC and The Heartland Institute, by all means, sayeth ICCR, turn over thy spending publicly. However, ICCR is remarkably silent when it comes to secretive contributions to their own pet causes, including advancing the LGBT agenda:
[T]hanks in large part to more than a decade of shareowner activism by Walden Asset Management, many corporations have come around on the issue of LGBT rights in the workplace.
Since 2000, Walden has engaged with over 100 companies on LGBT rights in the workplace; in the last three years, the firm has engaged with 35. Thirty-one of the 35 have made the improvements sought by Walden, an astonishing success rate for a shareowner engagement campaign.
“Walden’s ultimate goal is for all client portfolio companies to have inclusive non-discrimination policies that are easily accessible to prospective employees,” the firm stated in a recent press release.
According to the 2015 Proxy Voting Guide of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), “Over 84% of Fortune 500 companies have now adopted written nondiscrimination policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as have more than 93% of Fortune 100 companies. Yet, a much smaller percentage – just 34% – currently prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.”
Not surprisingly, given the above, ICCR and WAM are silent about OutGiving’s donation of oodles of dark money to unseat legislators who oppose their agenda. A recent BloombergPolitics article identifies Tim Gill as head of the highly secretive group of “wealthy gay donors.” Gill’s annual OutGiving conference will be held in Dallas this year. The meeting of donors for LGBT causes will feature U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as a keynote speaker.
From its outset 10 years ago (described in Atlantic profile), Gill’s political strategy has been built upon secrecy and the element of surprise—swooping in at the last moment with his network to donors to turn races against unsuspecting anti-gay politicians. Also, the details surrounding this year’s OutGiving conference are so shrouded in secrecy that they’d only reveal to me the city in which it’s being held, not even the hotel.
Again, your writer must insist he agrees there’s nothing wrong with a group of secretive donors of any stripe, but he also recognizes the rank hypocrisy of such groups as ICCR and WAM that are quite selective in their outrage and demands for transparency.
Who are the members of OutGiving and how much dark money are they contributing to LGBT-friendly candidates and causes? Your writer does not know, nor does he care. Unlike ICCR, he’s consistent in that regard.