Shareholder Activists Drop Religious Pretext
Religion & Liberty Online

Shareholder Activists Drop Religious Pretext

Religious shareholder activist group As You Sow released its 2016 Proxy Preview last week, and it’s a doozy. Tellingly, AYS has dropped religious faith as a rationale for its climate-change and anti-lobbying efforts. From the accompanying press release:

More 2016 shareholder proposals than ever before address climate change — 94 compared with 82 in 2015. Of the resolutions, 22 ask energy extractors and suppliers to detail how the warming planet will affect their operations and how they will respond if governments follow through with commitments made in the Paris climate treaty in December to keep fossil fuel assets in the ground to prevent damaging temperature increases. A further 18 resolutions focus on the risks from using hydraulic fracturing to extract energy from shale deposits, including 12 seeking methane reduction targets. Nineteen resolutions ask companies to set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The climate slate is rounded out by another 11 proposals that include a push to change energy reserves accounting at two companies and one suggesting executive bonuses should be linked to fossil fuel reserves accounting changes.

Political activity accounts for another 99 resolutions, including some drawing connections between government inaction on climate change and corporations’ lobbying and election spending. Proposals on lobbying (55) exceed those about election spending (40). Nine companies face resolutions seeking oversight and disclosure of both election and lobbying expenditures.

Hoo boy. Where to begin unpacking all the mischief hinted at above? Suffice it to write that the proxy resolutions in the 2016 Proxy Preview demand individual scrutiny in order to identify the wrongheadedness of it all. This despite the self-congratulatory back-patting and progressive smugness displayed above and below:

As You Sow CEO Andrew Behar said: “In this Paris-meets-politics year, the growing integration of issues for shareholder advocacy is apparent like never before. We see political spending intertwined with climate change and sustainability directly linked to CEO pay. Investors want companies to take a broad, systemic look at their policies and how they affect responsible action in the broader economy.”

Michael Passoff, CEO, Proxy Impact; and co-author of Proxy Preview 2016, said: “Shareholders are saying what politicians won’t: We must transform the energy sector, but money in politics is preventing that. Shareholders are stepping in where Congress fears to tread — demanding that companies prepare for climate change and come clean on political spending.”

Readers will note that neither Behar nor Passoff never once mention how AYS activities reflect religious faith and devotion but only politics. Behar’s “Paris-meets-politics” refers to last December’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Otherwise known as COP21, the conference was a pilgrimage of pomposity for AYS and the rest of the religious shareholder crowd. Collectively, the climate-change activists raised their carbon footprint exponentially in order to display publicly just how much fossil-fuel carbon emissions makes them both sad and angry.

Similarly, AYS activities directed at lobbying and political spending aren’t based in faith, only politics. In fact, AYS boasts its 2016 “lobbying transparency campaign begun in 2012 is coordinated by Walden Asset Management and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).” Hmmmm…does anybody else smell something funny emanating from the blended lobbying-disclosure efforts of a public-sector union and a supposedly faith-based investment group? It, too, reeks of progressive sadness and anger.

It seems AYS has set itself up as a progressive variation of Hollywood central casting replete with a huge roster of sad-looking clergy and angry-appearing nuns who are eager to lend their respective faces and voices to left-leaning causes during the annual proxy resolution season. AYS cares not a whit for its fellow stockholders and the profitability of the companies in which they’re all invested – which is supposed to be the main objective of owning stocks in the first place. Nor does it even bother sprinkling religious justification on its various agendas. It’s all about politics of a particular stripe, which aims to use proxy resolutions to shut down all opposing policy discourse while bringing public companies to heel (or else) at the secular altars of climate change, political spending and lobbying.

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.