Shareholder Resolutions and the ‘God Card’
Religion & Liberty Online

Shareholder Resolutions and the ‘God Card’

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.

The real aim of these efforts is to shame the company in question to reduce or eliminate altogether charitable funding of groups out of favor with the corporate social responsibility, or CSR, crowd – groups that lobby, research, publish and campaign on issues that conform to the progressive or “social justice” agenda.

These initiatives are in tandem with two federal announcements last month. On Jan. 9, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said it would submit by April  a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” which would require companies to disclose their political spending. Another attempt to perform an end run around Citizens United is New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s revelation that his office is seeking greater transparency of private companies that make political contributions.

The SEC and DiNapoli announcements coincide with the proxy shareholder season of corporate governance. During this period, any shareholder owning more than $2,000 in corporate stock or 1 percent of the company may introduce policy changes they deem important.

The rising tide of shareholder activists from religious orders has even prompted coinage of the phrase “the God card” by Sister Patricia Daly to connote a sense of moral authority for clergy and other religious who promote secular progressive causes in corporate boardrooms.

As noted by Acton’s Joe Carter, there is nothing intrinsically wrong when clergy, nuns and other religious bring their individual social and political views into the corporate boardroom. It becomes worrisome, however, when clerical collars and habits become a Trojan horse for promulgating progressive policies that don’t necessarily reflect the teachings of the religious institutions to which the professed religious belong.

In fact, there exists a close alignment between the causes championed by Sr. Daly and the Sisters of St. Dominic’s and the very same issues listed as policy priorities by such progressive organizations as the George Soros-funded Media Matters for America. This group  launched the Conservative Transparency website in 2009 specifically to monitor corporate donations to conservative organizations.

The Sisters of Charity’s professed aim to “actively promote changes in corporate practices to achieve social and economic justice, a sustainable Earth and the common good” prompted Carter to state: “The Sisters aren’t interested so much in advancing a Catholic position as they are principles that could be accepted by any secular liberal.”

The Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of St. Dominic and other religious activists in the boardrooms and annual meetings do not speak for all the faithful within their respective traditions. Although, from their comments and activism, you might assume they are doing just that. Instead, they seek to further an agenda either antithetically opposed or – as with the blatant attempts to circumvent Citizens United with calls for corporate donation transparency – totally unrelated to their respective vocations.

Corporations may acquiesce to transparency demands from shareholders or decide to pursue it as policy, which is their prerogative. They have their shareholders to answer to, after all. What’s more, religious activists on the left may choose to divest shares in favor of investing in companies more aligned with their principles. But if they did that how could they hector executives and directors about “social responsibility” at companies they’ve targeted for social reform?

Should the SEC or other government entities step in to require such disclosures the negative impact on free speech would be immeasurable. Subsequent reprisals from progressive activists may ricochet throughout the the company, the workforce it employs, the shareholders it enriches, and the customers it serves.

If you have your own examples and cases of how progressives are employing shareholder activism, CSR principles and the “God card” to further an agenda that may have nothing to do with corporate best interests, feel free to add them to the comment box below.

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.