Shareholders withdraw Pfizer lobbying resolution as company agrees to dialogue

Pharma giant commits to “future dialogue”

The AFSCME Employees Pension Plan, the US labour union pension fund, has withdrawn a shareholder proposal calling for political lobbying disclosure at Pfizer – saying the pharmaceutical giant has agreed to “future dialogue” on the topic.

The AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) had tabled the motion in November alongside Zevin Asset Management, on behalf of the John Maher Trust, and the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica for inclusion on the agenda of Pfizer’s forthcoming shareholder meeting.

Pfizer is one of 40 blue-chip companies that have been targeted on the lobbying disclosure issue by a US investor coalition organised by Walden Asset Management and the AFSCME.

AFSCME Plan Secretary Charles Jurgonis wrote to Matthew Lepore, Pfizer’s corporate secretary, on January 13 to confirm the decision to withdraw the proposal.

“Since Pfizer has agreed to engage in future dialogue on the topic, the plan is withdrawing the shareholder proposal asking for lobbying disclosure,” Jurgonis said in the letter.

The proposal had called for an annual report on the company’s lobbying “policy and procedures” as well as details on direct and indirect payments, including to trade associations, and a list of recipients.“As Pfizer shareholders we believe transparency and accountability in our company’s use of corporate funds to influence legislation and regulation, both directly and indirectly, is in our best interests,” the AFSCME said in supporting materials.

It cited the company’s involvement in the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which opposes environmental regulations, as being at odds with its stated aim of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

“As shareholders we need full disclosure to evaluate the financial effects of contradictions like this,” AFSCME says. The AFSCME estimates Pfizer spent some $36.m in 2009 and 2010 on direct federal lobbying.

“Transparency and accountability is in our best interests”

Pfizer said it will include in its proxy materials a proposal from shareholder activist Evelyn Davis which “substantially duplicates” the AFSCME one. The Davis proposal, which calls for the company to publish a detailed statement in the media of its lobbying expenditure, was also on the agenda at last year’s meeting. The company opposed it and it was defeated by 4.5bn votes to 219m.
The Pfizer shareholder meeting is likely to take place in late April.