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By Che Odom
March 17 — An investor coalition pushing for greater corporate disclosure of political lobbying activity has submitted shareholder proposals to 50 companies this proxy season to assess, among other things, their position on climate change.
“We often see a dilemma of companies taking positive positions on climate change, but then your trade association works against” environmental protections, Timothy Smith, Walden Asset Management's director of environmental, social and governance shareholder engagement, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview March 17.
According to resolutions filed at the companies, which include Allergan Inc., Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., more disclosure would better enable shareholders to evaluate whether lobbying is consistent with a company’s expressed goals and is in the best interests of the company and stockholders.
Corporate reputation is an important component of shareholder value, and controversial lobbying activity, such as on climate change, can pose significant reputational risks, Smith said.
The coalition, led by Walden and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, comprises individual shareholders, public pension funds, asset managers and others. This is the sixth year they have submitted resolutions asking for lobbying disclosure.
Last year, 65 proponents filed 54 proposals, out of which 33 went to a vote and garnered an average of 26 percent support among shareholders, the coalition said.
Scrutiny of corporate climate disclosures has intensified over the past year, especially after nearly the entire world agreed to fight climate change at a December 2015 United Nations-led summit in Paris, and it is on track to ramp up further over the next year.
“Many companies made positive statements” at the summit “and we welcomed that,” but some companies have lobbied through trade associations to block clean power initiatives,” Smith said.
About four-fifths of the world’s 250 biggest businesses report on their carbon footprint and half of them have set a public reduction target, according to a recent KPMG survey. Still, the firm says corporate carbon reporting is patchy at best and it varies widely across geographies and sectors.
Smith said many companies are willing to discuss their political activities with shareholders, but most say they are not ready to disclose their lobbying efforts on issues such as climate change.
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A news release and copy of the sample resolution are available at http://www.waldenassetmgmt.com/.
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