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Banner Proxy Season for Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability with Strong Shareholder, Company Support
With the regular proxy season complete, and only one out-of-season annual meeting scheduled at a company where a resolution was filed, support for CPA’s model political disclosure resolution has reached a new high in 2019.
The average of all votes at 33 companies that have held annual meetings was 37%, up from 34% last year.
The breakdown is as follows:
- Shareholders cast two majority votes in support of the resolution at Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. (53.6%, filed by John Chevedden/Jim McRitchie Group) and Macy’s Inc. (53.1%, filed by Mercy Investment Services.)
- There were 12 votes in the 40% range, including Kohl’s Corp. (49.8%), NextEra Energy Inc. (48.7%), Allstate Corp. (46.9%), Chemed (46.2%), American Tower Corp. (46.2%), Western Union Co. (44.3%), Fiserv Inc. (43.8%), Alaska Air Group (43.5%), Roper Technologies Inc. (43.0%), Netflix Inc. (41.7%), Centene Corp. (41.6%) and Nucor Corp (40.6%).
- 11 votes were in the 30% range. The companies included Illumina Inc. (37.7%), Simon Property Group Inc. (37.1%), American Water Works Company Inc. (37.0%), Duke Energy Corp. (35.8%), Wyndham Destinations (35.6%), Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (34.5%), Wynn Resorts Ltd. (34.4%) CMS Energy Corp. (34.3%), Equinix Inc. (34.2%), DTE Energy Co. (33.6%), and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. (31.7%).
Filing transparency resolutions at those companies were the Chevedden/McRitchie Group, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Bruce Herbert/Investor Voice, Friends Fiduciary, the Office of New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the First Affirmative Financial Network, Trillium Asset Management, Mercy Investment Services, and Sonen Capital.
At 13 other companies, resolutions were withdrawn after the companies agreed to disclose their political spending. Resolutions were withdrawn at Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. (filer, Friends Fiduciary); Ameriprise Financial Inc. and General Electric (Bruce Herbert/Investor Voice); Ball Corp. (Teamsters); Chubb Ltd. (Trillium Asset Management); Devon Energy (Nathan Cummings Foundation); Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., The Kroger Co., and Sysco Corp. (Office of NYS Comptroller DiNapoli); Mondelez International Inc. (Mercy Investment Services); MSCI Inc. and Tractor Supply Co. (Chevedden/McRitchie Group); and SVB Financial Group (Clean Yield Asset Management).
“This proxy season’s strong results are a clear affirmation that political disclosure and accountability has become the norm for companies and is considered essential by shareholders,” said CPA President Bruce Freed. “Dialogues we and our partners have had with companies show that they recognize that strong disclosure and accountability policies are not only good governance but strengthen and protect a company.”
The lowest vote in support was 7.4% at PayPal Holdings Inc., which most likely reflected a few insiders controlling many shares.
An interim report about the proxy season from ResponsibleInvestor.com was headlined, “Shareholder resolutions on corporate election-related spending are getting top scores.”
Leading Money Manager Features CPA-Zicklin Index to Investment, Business Community
At the Manhattan offices of investment management firm Neuberger Berman, an audience of asset managers, owners, proxy advisors and board members learned up-close this month why CPA’s work matters to them.
CPA President Freed informed attendees about the annual CPA-Zicklin Index of Political Disclosure and Accountability and its growing acceptance in corporate suites and beyond during the session hosted by Neuberger Berman.
Freed was joined on the panel by Pat Doherty, Director of Corporate Governance at the New York State Office of the State Comptroller, and Suzanne Rolon, Director, Corporate Governance, for Pfizer. Jonathan Bailey, Head of Environmental, Social, and Governance Investing at Neuberger Berman, moderated.
Attendees included representatives of prominent proxy advisory services Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services. Proxy advisors have shown increasing interest in CPA’s annual Index and campaign for political spending disclosure and transparency, in order to better advise institutional investors.
Year After ‘Collision Course’ Report, Pile-Ups Abound
By Bruce Freed
There’s no joy in our saying it, but a year since CPA published a report warning of a threat looming for public companies that engage in political spending, what once was hypothetical has become all too real.
We warned that companies were on a “Collision Course,” and we explained, “In an incendiary new political and digital media environment, corporations face a heightened and dangerous risk to their reputations and brands when they spend political money.” The threat? A potential clash between political activity and its consequences and a company’s brands, core values and positions, and reputational harm as a result.
While some companies are listening, others haven’t adopted corporate governance safeguards to protect their reputations. In our highly combustible political and social media era, pile-ups are occurring. They are all too common.
Take the recent headline about severe new abortion restrictions adopted by state legislatures, that no company would want to be targeted with: “These six corporations are financing the war on women in six states.”
“In their corporate literature, these companies present themselves as champions of women and gender equality. But they have collectively donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians seeking to roll back reproductive rights,” the Popular Information newsletter wrote in May. Journalist Judd Legum went on to list AT&T, Walmart, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Coca-Cola, and Aetna.
Or take the embarrassment for Google, Walmart, AT&T, Pfizer and other companies that asked late last year for refunds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi. She was recorded on video saying at a campaign event that if a rancher standing beside her “invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
Or take the call by some investors for Nike to spell out its political donations. Nike engaged in an advertising campaign featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who protested racial injustice, and the campaign sparked a boycott of Nike by some consumers backing Republicans. But actually Nike’s donations to the GOP far exceeded those to Democrats, a political analysis suggested.
These are just a few, random examples of the pile-ups since a year ago. Today, going into the 2020 elections, passions are even more intensely inflamed. This was evidenced by news this week that employees of the home furnishing company Wayfair were walking out to protest the company’s sale of furniture to the operator of a detention facility for migrant children.
CPA plans to publish a sequel to the “Collision Course” report. We hope the sequel won’t be titled “Demolition Derby.” If enough companies that spend thousands of political dollars smarten up, perhaps that outcome can be avoided.
CPA president Freed announced that Dan Carroll has become the Center’s vice president for programs.
“Dan joined us last year as director of programs,” Freed said. “He has provided strong leadership in overseeing the CPA-Zicklin Index and CPA’s shareholder engagement effort, and we are pleased to make this announcement.”
CPA in the News
When MarketWatch reported recently about CEOs opening their wallets to contribute to Democratic presidential hopefuls, it turned to CPA for context.
“At this stage in the race, the donations in large part show corporate leaders supporting top politicians in their companies’ home states,” MarketWatch said.
“’They’re clearly maintaining a relationship,’ said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that pushes for better disclosure of corporate political activity. ‘They probably know them. They’ve met them, dealt with them.’”
New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy signed into law a measure “requiring nonprofit groups seeking to influence elections or legislation to report donors who contribute $10,000 or more,” according to The New York Times.
Dark Money Disclosure
“Now New Jersey is joining a growing number of cities and states, including New York City and California, taking aim at these groups and forcing them to publicly disclose the name of their donors,” The Times reported.
|CPA is a non-profit, non-partisan organization created in November 2003 to bring transparency and accountability to political spending. To learn more about the Center for Political Accountability visit www.politicalaccountability.net.