$25bn investor group pressures companies over US think tank funding

Open letter about links to ALEC and Heartland institutes

A group of leading US responsible investment institutions, faith investors and foundations with combined assets of around $25bn (€20.3bn), has sent an open letter to major companies querying their involvement in free-market think tanks the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Heartland Institute.

The 41 investors sent the letter to 49 household-name companies in total. Seven – Altria Group, Anheuser-Busch InBev, AT&T, Comcast, Pfizer, Reynolds American and Time Warner Cable – were targeted over the membership in both groups.

Among European companies targeted over their membership in ALEC were AstraZeneca, Diageo, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Royal Dutch Shell and T-Mobile.

The investors want the companies to review the business rationale for their relationships with the controversial lobby groups and report the findings to shareholders.

“A company’s involvement with these organizations links it to controversial positions that include Stand Your Ground laws, anti-immigration legislation, denial of climate change and an aggressive attack on the Environmental Protection Agency,” says Timothy Smith, Director of ESG Shareowner Engagement at Walden Asset Management, who coordinated the initiative.The investors are worried the relationships could expose companies to reputational and business risks which could hit shareholder value. The letters were addressed to the Chair of the Board Governance Committee with a copy to the CEO.

The letter is the latest engagement with companies on the issue; to date over 30 companies have left ALEC and 20 have quit Heartland.

It has been sparked by the controversial US Supreme Court ‘Citizens United’ decision in 2010, which freed up corporate spending on political lobbying.

The letter’s signatories include:

Walden Asset Management, Calvert Investments, Pax World, Boston Common AAM, AFSCME, Domini Social Investments, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), Mercy Investment Services, Progressive Asset Management, Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, Effective Assets, Green Century Capital Management, Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge, The Needmor Fund, Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, Marianist Province of the US, Sisters of Charity, Social(k), Unitarian Universalist Association, The Brainerd Foundation, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, Merck Family Fund, Presentation Sisters of the BVM, As You Sow, Zevin AM, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Trillium AM, The Nathan Cummings Foundation.