A Meeting of the Shareholder Activist Families
Acton Institute Powerblog

A Meeting of the Shareholder Activist Families


Thus far your writer’s reportage on matters related to so-called “religious” shareholder activism has focused mainly on the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and As You Sow. It is called Interfaith and that should tell you that this project isn’t restricted to Protestants and Catholics. Certain other members from another Great Faith unfortunately fall into the same category.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation, another ICCR member, describes its faith-based mission thus:

The Nathan Cummings Foundation 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.

Laura Shaffer Campos, director of NCF shareholder activities, described the focus of NCF activism to ICCR’s Corporate Examiner:

Of course, we file directly on climate change. But we also seek to address climate and inequality by engaging companies on issues like corporate political spending and the network neutrality of the wireless networks that represent the primary means of Internet access for economically disadvantaged communities.

NCF’s proxy resolutions include political contribution disclosure requirements, which were submitted this year to Duke Energy and Spectra Energy. Where to begin when one would be hard-pressed to find anything in “Jewish tradition, democratic values and social justice” to actually support such claims?

Yet, NCF – in cahoots with ICCR in a fashion that might prompt a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act investigation with any other enterprise that, say, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/sen-whitehouse-d-ri-suggests-using-rico-laws-global-warming-skeptics_963007.html – is proud of the common ground shared with the heads of the five families…errr… ICCR:

The ability to work in coalition with other ICCR members is a significant benefit of membership. In our experience, the world of shareholder activism is a uniquely cooperative field, with experienced investors happy to help newcomers to the field, or even just a particular issue, by showing them the ropes. When NCF joined ICCR more than a decade ago, we benefitted greatly from the knowledge and expertise of our fellow ICCR members as we filed our first proposals and worked to get up to speed on issues like sustainability reporting and ethical criteria for the extension of patents. ICCR continues to allow us to expand our impact by leveraging the issue-area expertise of our fellow ICCR members. It also provides a forum for us to speak about the importance of addressing issues like executive compensation. Over the years, we’ve also benefitted from the unique moral authority some of ICCR’s members bring to our work.

The heavy-handed leaning on corporate America by NCF and ICCR is wrong on so many levels, space limits listing them all here. Let’s suffice today with the evisceration of NCF’s obsession to impose network neutrality, provided by The Wall Street Journal’s L. Gordon Crovitz. He presents empirical evidence that broadband investment has decreased significantly since the Federal Communications Commission adopted net neutrality regulations earlier this year, which treat the Internet as just another utility:

The FCC never planned to set rates and terms for broadband under the laws that dictated how railroads operated in the 1880s and the phone system in the 1930s. But President Obama decided “net neutrality” was good politics, so he demanded that the commission impose the most extreme form of regulation. Today bureaucrats lobbied by special interests determine what is “fair” and “reasonable” on the Internet, including rates, tariffs and business arrangements. The FCC got thousands of requests for new regulations within weeks of the new rules.
Before Obamanet went into effect, economist Hal Singer of the Progressive Policy Institute predicted in The Wall Street Journal that if price and other regulations were introduced, capital investments by ISPs could quickly fall from the $77 billion invested in 2014—between 5% and 12% a year, according to his forecast.

Now Mr. Singer has analyzed the latest data, and his prediction has come true. He found that in the first half of 2015, as the new regulations were being crafted in Washington, major ISPs reduced capital expenditure by an average of 12%, while the overall industry average dropped 8%. Capital spending was down 29% at AT&T and Charter Communications, 10% at Cablevision, and 4% at Verizon. (Comcast increased capital spending, but on a new home-entertainment operating system, not broadband.)

Until now, spending had fallen year-to-year only twice in the history of broadband: in 2001 after the dot-com bust, and in 2009 after the recession. “In every other year,” Mr. Singer wrote for Forbes, “ISPs—like hamsters on a wheel—were forced to upgrade their networks to prevent customers from switching to rivals offering faster connections.”

These results are what pass for “social justice” according to NCF and ICCR? Seriously, how can a group of investors consider such results beneficial for not only their own portfolio but portfolios of others who don’t share their fervent social-justice ideology? Instead, they’ve stifled investments, killed jobs and harmed the future viability of Internet Service Providers. More’s the pity.

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. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 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 five 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 Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.