Shareholder Activists: ‘We’re No Angels’ Edition
Religion & Liberty Online

Shareholder Activists: ‘We’re No Angels’ Edition

Shareholder activism, according to the headline in the most recent issue of PRWeek, is “rising” and “big companies [are] in crosshairs.” The ensuing article by Brittaney Kiefer, begins:

Shareholder activism used to be just a nuisance that arose during proxy season, involving a group of contentious investors who tended to target smaller or less established companies.

However, in recent years activists have set their sights on larger companies, and more traditional investors are joining those fights. As shareholder activism goes mainstream, companies are becoming more proactive in engaging investors year-round, communications professionals say.

Ms. Kiefer’s article is a fine example of objective reporting on the growing trend of shareholder activism, but she avoids untangling the Gordian knot of interests behind these increasingly concerted efforts by leftist activists. These efforts include the recruitment of such religious-based investment groups as Walden Asset Management, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Needmor Fund and various and sundry Unitarian Universalist collectives to sprinkle – albeit disingenuously – holy water on the whole progressive agenda. Explains Kiefer:

An activist shareholder is an investor who attempts to use his or her stake in a publicly traded corporation to affect change at the company. Activists often launch campaigns that put public pressure on companies, tackling issues such as executive compensation, management structure, or corporate strategy.

Sounds rather benign, no? Actually, as noted here and here, these groups have metastasized from mere nuisance to genuine threats to not only corporate (and shareholder) profitability, but to free speech (including scientific debate) and helping the nation’s (and world’s) poorest.

For example, the Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist posted on Aug. 11:

Community Church has a reputation for being an activist church, and with good reason. You may be aware of member and group activities on, for example, becoming a green sanctuary or fighting for immigrant rights. But did you know that we also use our investment assets to further our mission as a “caring, justice-making, anti-racist, diverse, spiritual community”? Since 1992, Community has partnered with our wealth management firm, Walden Asset Management, to lead shareholder activist strategies to ensure our money is invested in the most socially responsible way possible.

Among the activist initiatives pursued by the Community Church and Walden are:

UPS (United Parcel Service) – Community Church co-filed a resolution to UPS “seeking lobby disclosure, as the company still refuses to reveal its lobbying through trade associations. UPS also continues to support ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council], which is [sic] works to challenge renewable energy regulations at state levels.”

ACN (Accenture) – Community Church cofiled [sic]”with Accenture seeking lobbying disclosure. The resolution received a respectable 31% of the vote last year but the company did not agree to more transparency in its lobbying disclosure. And as a Board member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which is vigorously against environmental legislation, (to the degree that they even sue the EPA for being proactive on climate change and Greenhouse Gases, we believe this double standard should be challenged.”

EMR (Emerson) – Community Church cofiled [sic] the resolution with Walden Asset Management “seeking Sustainability Reporting by Emerson Electric. This is the 4th year we have filed this resolution so we win awards for determination. We appreciate the continuing coalition of investors, (over 20), joining together to continue to press Emerson on climate and sustainability issues.”

I’ll leave it to readers to suss the “caring, justice-making, anti-racist, diverse, spiritual community” aspects of the above. I will assert, however, that all this goes far beyond “nuisance,” past the realms of cajoling, nagging and inveigling, and stampedes across sanity’s drawbridge into the kingdom of progressive ideological lunacy. One might, in fact, be forgiven for suspecting a collaborative effort between Walden, ICCR and the innocuously named Common Cause and Center for Media and Democracy – these last two recipients of billionaire George Soros largesse. After all, it was CMD’s PRWatch that ran a story this past January containing strikingly similar outrage against another company refusing to submit to leftist calls for campaign disclosure, ALEC contributions and the like:

As CMD staff reported in 2011, at ALEC’s annual convention in New Orleans in 2011, CMD learned that Visa was the sponsor of the lunch address of former Congressman Dick Armey, then the Chairman of the Tea Party group called “FreedomWorks,” which was spawned by right-wing billionaire David Koch’s “Citizens for a Sound Economy,” which split into FreedomWorks and Koch’s “Americans for Prosperity.” The transcript of Armey’s comments is not publicly available.

And this:

The efforts of shareholders to obtain greater transparency from Visa was an uphill battle, given the other major shareholders of Visa, which went public a few years ago. According to Morningstar, a financial reporting outlet, BlackRock Advisors LLC is the largest stockholder of Visa, with over 32 million shares as of the end of 2012. BlackRock Fund Advisors holds another 4.5 million shares, and Goldman, Sachs & Co. holds 7.3 million shares. Fidelity, Vanguard, and T. Rowe Price are also both mutual fund investors and direct investors in Visa. It is not clear, however, which companies voted which way on the Boston Commons/Unitarian effort to get more disclosure about Visa’s role in ALEC….

Meanwhile, Visa is only one of 49 companies that socially responsible investors wrote to last year to urge ALEC funders to reconsider their financial support for the controversial group. Walden Asset Management and their other allies are continuing their shareholder-based outreach that has helped move other corporations out of ALEC.

But as a result of the shareholder vote in January, the amount of money Visa has spent funding ALEC over the years will remain hidden from investors and the public.

Excerpts from the article cannot render justice to the howl-inducing, handwringing, and garment-rending prose of author Lisa Graves. But readers should note how closely CMD, Walden, ICCR, Boston Commons and the Community Church align when it comes to advancing the progressive agenda.

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.