Citizens United, Capuchins, and Corporate Speech
Religion & Liberty Online

Citizens United, Capuchins, and Corporate Speech

When it comes to political contributions it seems those who lean left-of-center cannot abide competition, which – in large part – explains the hue and cry from the left since the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling. It’s all well and fine when unions, for example, or certain Hollywood hotshots flip a few million to the progressive cause or candidate du jour, but when a corporation wishes to defend the interests of its employees, shareholders and communities it’s the basis for handwringing, rending of garments and a flurry of public pronouncements that SCOTUS got it Just. So. Wrong.

Into this environment has been introduced a certain element that to less discerning eyes is of a spiritual nature – but is nothing more than progressive ideology cloaked in chasubles and habits – in the form of clergy, nuns and various religious submitting proxy shareholder resolutions. A case in point would be the recent announcement that a lobbying-disclosure  resolution filed by the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order (members in good standing of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, naturally) directed at Alliant Techsystems passed on July 31.

In a press statement, Fr. Michael Crosby, ICCR board director and lead filer of the resolution, noted:

Our province of Capuchin Franciscans has been very concerned for over a decade with some of the businesses of Alliant Tech, particularly land mines, as this is a weapon that continues to kill and maim innocent people around the world. This concern is only exacerbated when the company moves into guns and then lobbies heavily to thwart legislation that would regulate their use….

As ATK [Alliant] shareholders we have maintained that we have a right to know how lobbying funds are being deployed to determine whether these activities are in alignment with our company’s stated mission and values. Today, our fellow shareholders made it clear that they are in agreement.

In other words, Fr. Crosby was able to convince 65 percent of shareholder voters to support lobbying disclosure by Alliant, which spent nearly $3 million on lobbying efforts between 2011 and 2012. Alliant additionally has been a member of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has spent $1.6 million in lobbying efforts since 2011. Much of the latter’s lobbying focuses on opposition to legislation demanding additional background checks, magazine limits and bans on assault weapons.

All of this begs the question, if this information was readily available from Senate reports, why then was Crosby gunning for more transparency? His original resolution reads in part:

As stockholders, we encourage transparency and accountability in the use of staff time and corporate funds to influence legislation and regulation both directly and indirectly. We believe such disclosure is in stockholders’ best interests. Absent a system of accountability, company assets could be used for objectives contrary to ATK’s long-term interests.

ATK spent approximately $2.66 million in 2010 and 2011 on direct federal lobbying activities (Senate reports). These figures do not include lobbying expenditures to influence legislation in states. ATK is listed as a member of the Aerospace Industries Association and the Perchlorate Study Group. In 2011 and 2012, the Aerospace Industries Association spent more than $4.2 million on lobbying. ATK does not disclose its trade association memberships, payments or the portions used for lobbying on its website.

Oh the ignominy!

Should readers need a bit more exegesis on Fr. Crosby’s assault on Alliant’s free speech rights granted by Citizens United, here goes: the good Capuchins of Crosby’s order and the religious gathered under the aegis of ICCR aren’t huge fans of the Second Amendment. In fact, they’d like to roll it back as far as conceivably possible. The means to such ends rests on attempts to shame publically Alliant for its lobbying efforts on behalf of the company, its employees and its shareholders. Don’t believe me? Here’s Sr. Susan Mika of the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition:

ICCR members have been filing resolutions with defense contractors and weapons manufacturers practically since the organization’s inception in the ‘70s. We’ve seen too many recent episodes of violence involving guns to be complacent both in terms of national policy and corporate responsibility. We remain invested in these companies in the hopes of transforming their practices, including their aggressive lobbying against stricter gun-control legislation.

Look, you don’t need to be a card-carrying NRA or NSSF member, Second Amendment patriot or gun nut to see through the gossamer-thin, bait-and-switch of Fr. Crosby’s proxy resolution. All that boilerplate about land mines and transparency? Fuhgeddaboudit. It’s all about shutting down opposing public policy voices to clear the path for more gun control, and having nothing to do with issues of faith.

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.