US investors withdraw proposal at Pfizer demanding more lobbying disclosure

Had sought information on involvement with ALEC lobby group

Three socially responsible investors from the US representing $403m (€290m) in assets have withdrawn a shareholder proposal calling for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to disclose which political lobbies in the US it is either a member of or backs financially.

In an e-mail to Pfizer, the investors – the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, the Unitarian Universalist Association and Friends Fiduciary Corporation – said they were withdrawing the motion because the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was likely to allow Pfizer to strike it from the agenda of its annual general meeting (AGM) on April 24 next year.

“While Pfizer was correct according to the letter of SEC proxy regulations, we thought the substance was a reach,” Stephen Viederman wrote to Pfizer officials on December 2 in his capacity as Chair of the Finance Committee of the Christopher Reynolds Foundation.

Viederman sits on the boards of the Network for Sustainable Financial Markets, the Responsible Endowment Coalition and the Advisory Committee of Matthew Kiernan’s Inflection Point Capital Management.

But the investors also said they were withdrawing the proposal after Pfizer director Stephen Sanger agreed to meet with them to discuss the company’s lobbying activities.Sanger, the former chairman and CEO at General Mills, chairs Pfizer’s Corporate Governance Committee.

The investors are especially concerned about Pfizer’s involvement with the controversial political lobby group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Although Pfizer provides details on its lobbying activities on its website, it does not mention ALEC. But the ALEC EXPOSED website indicates that Pfizer has backed the group since 2011 and ALEC’s own website lists Robert Jones, Pfizer’s Director of Government Relations, as a member of its Private Enterprise Council.

Pfizer in any case asked the SEC for permission to omit the investors’ proposal on the basis that it resembled a motion from 2011 which failed to win shareholder support.

That motion, filed by shareholder activist Evelyn Davis, would have demanded that Pfizer provide details in the media on exactly how much in spends on lobbying.

Yet in its ‘no-action’ request to the SEC, Pfizer supplied two more reasons for rejecting the proposal, namely that it affected its “ordinary business operations” and that anyway, the company had implemented it.