New York State Common Retirement Fund gets three more US firms to disclose political spending as campaign continues

The scheme has now induced 21 investee companies to inform on the issue

A campaign by the $176.2bn (€130.8bn) New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYCRF) to get US companies it is invested in to disclose their political spending continues to be successful with three more major US companies signing up following the fund’s proxy pressure. During the 2014 voting season, the NYCRF filed a shareholder proposal seeking disclosure at 29 companies in which it has $2.73bn invested. Of the 29, three companies agreed to comply in exchange for the scheme withdrawing the proposal. They are the cable giant Comcast, fertiliser company CF Industries and coal firm Peabody Energy. In addition, dairy company Dean Foods and oil firm Valero Energy have come under pressure to disclose their political expenditures after a corresponding NYCRF proposal was narrowly approved at the firms’ annual general meetings (AGMs). The votes at Dean and Valero for the proposal were 51.8% and 51.6%, respectively. Meanwhile, the NYCRF’s proposal was narrowly defeated at the AGMs of US oil company Marathon (43.2% in favour) and money transfer firm Western Union (42.1% in favour).“We reached new milestones this past shareholder season and grew the roster of corporations that disclose their political spending,” said Thomas DiNapoli, who as New York State Comptroller is Trustee of the NYCRF. “Spending shareholder dollars on politics can be a risky business, so investors need increased transparency to reduce those risks.” The NYCRF began filing shareholder proposals at investees during the 2011 US proxy season or a year after the US Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling. In the ruling, the Court held that since corporate political spending is akin to free speech, and hence protected by the US Constitution, the government could not place any restrictions on it.
Including Comcast, CF Industries and Peabody, the NYCRF has succeeded in getting 21 of its investees in the US to disclose what they spend on political lobbying. Some of the better-known companies are motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson, soft drinks firm PepsiCo and hotel operator Marriott International.