As You Sow Chases ‘Dark Money’
Religion & Liberty Online

As You Sow Chases ‘Dark Money’

Your writer has been telling readers for some time now that so-called “religious” shareholder activism is more political than spiritual. I’ve also pointed out time and again that the priests, nuns, clergy, and religious affiliated with such shareholder groups as As You Sow are opposed to corporate donations to political activities only when it suits them.

This last point was clarified recently by events in Arizona. First Affirmative Investments and Calvert Investments joined AYS in an attempt to force Arizona Public Service Company and its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., to disclose whether either had donated money to the Free Enterprise Club, a 501c(4) nonprofit. It seems FEC provided funding to candidates campaigning for seats on the Arizona Regulatory Commission, and the source of the “dark money” disbursed by FEC to the candidates may or may not have come from APSC and Pinnacle. The kerfuffle stems from suspicions voiced by a Washington, D.C. outfit, the Checks and Balances Project, that an Arizona Corporation Commission official breached ethics or broke the law by communicating with APS and FEC.

Confused? Don’t be. The Arizona Attorney General is sussing out whether the official actually broke the law. The remainder of the story boils down to the left’s distaste for private political donations, which have been protected since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Citizens United.

According to the Arizona Republic:

APS is widely believed to have given money to the Free Enterprise Club, though the utility has repeatedly declined to comment on its political activities.

About one-third of the stockholders of Pinnacle West Capital Corp., APS’ parent company, disapprove of that secrecy, according to a recent shareholder initiative.

The nonprofit group As You Sow, which encourages corporate responsibility, launched the initiative that would require Pinnacle West to report fully its political spending and activities. Supporters said they hoped to draw interest to the matter of APS donating to the politicians who set the electric company’s prices.

The initiative failed, but 30.8 percent of stockholders, representing about $1.4 billion in Pinnacle West shares, approved of the initiative, according to As You Sow.

“That’s a great result,” As You Sow’s energy program manager, Amelia Timbers, said Friday. “I hope that Pinnacle West gets the message that shareholders are not supportive of their political activities.”

As You Sow ran the initiative on behalf of socially responsible investment firms First Affirmative Investments and Calvert Investments.

“Every dollar Pinnacle West spends on lobbying to slow climate change mitigation is a dollar our shareholders lose,” said Gabriel Thoumi, Calvert‘s senior sustainability analyst. “Pinnacle West reported spending $9 million on lobbying between 2013-2014, which is about 8 cents a share. Our shareholders want that money in their pockets, not in the pockets of lobbyists.”

Readers will note Ms. Timbers and Mr. Thoumi don’t seem terribly interested in anything other than shutting down a political point of view with which they both disagree, never mind the abject foolishness of Thoumi’s assertion that Pinnacle West’s spending on lobbying isn’t in the best interest of the majority of its shareholders, rather than the one-third who lose sleep over Citizens United. Repeat after me: This is about politics. This is not about religious 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.