Proxy Shareholders Losing Their Religion
Religion & Liberty Online

Proxy Shareholders Losing Their Religion

Perhaps nothing invigorates the left more than climate change and the exercise of free speech in the political arena – imagine their combined dyspepsia when these two issues converge. This is what is occurring with regrettable frequency as Walden Asset Management, Ceres and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Relations have joined a rogue’s gallery of progressive organizations issuing proxy shareholder resolutions urging a variety of companies to disassociate from the American Legislative Exchange Council.

On June 25, Ernst & Young issued a report titled “Key Developments of the 2013 Proxy Season.” The document states: “Shareholder influence in the boardroom is growing. Investors are using proxy voting and shareholder proposals to challenge a wide spectrum of corporate governance practices – from board diversity, to focus on environmental topics, to transparency around political spending.”

We know from previous reports these past few months that many religious investment groups have mounted the barricades of proxy investment activism to forward progressive causes. And their fingerprints smudge the resolutions submitted to businesses to further agendas far removed from spiritual faith whilst wedded to the latest causes celebre of the left, including eliminating corporate funding of ALEC.

Why target ALEC? According to PRWatch:

“Timothy Smith of Walden Asset Management, who is involved with the shareholder campaigns, told CMD [The Center for Media and Democracy, the parent organization of both PRWatch and SourceWatch], ‘ALEC’s partnership with the climate-denying Heartland Institute to challenge renewable energy standards at the state level has heightened investor concern and opposition. Shareowner pressure has been one important factor in getting many companies to announce that they cut their ties or clarifying that they had left years ago. The next proxy season is expected to see additional pressure on companies seemingly dedicated to keeping their ALEC support flowing.”

Full disclosure: I am a former employee of The Heartland Institute (2010-2012) and currently serve (unpaid) as one of the think tank’s many policy advisors as well as freelance contributor (paid) to several of their publications. I also maintain several personal and professional associations with ALEC members.

That written, it must be asked why Walden, Ceres and ICCR are so vehemently opposed to a principled, well-researched and often underfunded opposition? And this: Whatever does spiritual vocations have to do with reducing carbon emissions at the expense of the world’s most financially challenged? As noted recently by Marita Noon:

Natural gas prices have been creeping higher and have pushed an increased use of coal in attempt to keep electricity costs as low as possible—after all, progressives and career environmentalists Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhous, of the Breakthrough Institute, posit: cheap electricity is a public good and a human right that has saved the forests, produced more food on less land, and lifted incomes.

Noon continues:

[Shellenberger and Nordhous] explain: eighty years ago, “The best forests had been cut down to use as fuel for wood stoves. Soils were being rapidly depleted of nutrients, resulting in falling yields and a desperate search for new croplands. Poor farmers were plagued by malaria and had inadequate medical care. Few had indoor plumbing and even fewer had electricity.” Cheap electricity changed all that and Senator Al Gore Sr. fought for it.

Today, “Environmentalists demand that we make carbon-based energy more expensive” and the left calls it “A threat to the planet and harmful to the poor.” Shellenberger and Nordhous state: “In the name of democracy it now offers the global poor not what they want—cheap electricity—but more of what they don’t want, namely intermittent and expensive power” which “offers the poor no path to the kinds of high-energy lifestyles Western environmentalists take for granted.”

Believers in anthropogenic global warming, they acknowledge that “modernization” does have “side effects,” but they believe that these are problems that can be “dealt with.” They claim that “energy poverty causes more harm to the poor than global warming” and that “modern energy”—a term they use interchangeable with “cheap energy”—“makes the poor vastly less vulnerable to climate impacts.”

Shellenberger and Nordhous close their eye-opening commentary by stating that the 1.3 billion people who lack cheap grid electricity should get it. “It will dramatically improve their lives, reduce deforestation, and make them more resilient to climate impacts. … Any effort worthy of being called progressive, liberal, or environmental, must embrace a high energy planet.”

Rather than focus on the plight of the poor, however, Walden, Ceres and ICCR wish to stifle ALEC and Heartland attempts to mitigate out-of-control government regulations, green-energy crony capitalism and renewable mandates, which are all lofty measures to fulfill Christian goals to assist the poor in this writer’s biased and not-so-humble opinion.

According to the Ernst & Young report, “Nearly 40% of all shareholder proposals were focused on environmental and social topics – the largest of any category.” ICCR and Walden resolutions targeted ConocoPhillips and Exxon to provide more political transparency and reduce carbon emissions, causes enjoined by CMD, Common Cause and People for the American Way, among others.

These last groups, it should be mentioned, receive financing from the Open Society Institute founded and bankrolled by leftist billionaire George Soros, a guy whose enmity toward Christian causes is well-documented. A quick scroll through the list of Soros’ donations reveals OSI monies propping up the “religious” left-wing organization Sojourners, the extremely secular and equally left-wing Planned Parenthood and numerous advocacy groups desiring to shame companies from funding ALEC, Heartland and any other group challenging the so-called “scientific consensus on climate change,” for example.

In aligning themselves with OSI-funded groups with leftist agendas, further, these groups are attempting to shut down all honest debate – the necessary basis for scientific discovery and public policy decisions – by thwarting corporate donations to any organization with which they disagree. Further, Walden and ICCR have sold-out their obligation to honor Christ’s command to tender to the least of our brethren in favor of granting indulgences to climate-change alarmists.

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.