Are you a shareholder? Then you can be a shareholder activist

Barbara HeislerThese days it seems like our nation is being driven by a bunch of hard-to-control corporations, hell-bent on doing whatever they want in pursuit of every penny of profit, no matter what the cost to the rest of us. But, if you own stock in those corporations, you can join other stockholders to tell them to clean up their act. It’s called shareholder activism.

Funding Exchange has a long history of shareholder activism, having been part of the movement for divestment in South Africa. Earlier this year, we joined with a group of over 40 institutional investors, led by Walden Asset Management and AFSCME, to introduce a set of shareholder resolutions to 40 companies urging them to move away from business-as-usual.

This particular set of resolutions would require these corporations to report on lobbying expenditures, including indirect funding of lobbying through trade associations. The resolutions will be taken up at annual meetings over the course of this year. Want the details? You can see the full list of shareholder allies and the corporations we introduced resolutions to.

These resolutions will give us important tools to curb outrageous lobbying expenditures by corporations. The more we understand how The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, raises the $132 million it spends on lobbying each year, the more easily we can ask corporations to stop giving our money to them.

The runaway nature of corporate lobbying is why this particular resolution has attracted such widespread support from our allied organizations within philanthropy, labor and even some religious investors. In late May, the Wall Street Journal ran an article condemning these resolutions as perhaps leading to a loss of “free speech rights” for corporations. (I could live with that on my conscience.)

Shareholder activism allows us to take on any number of corporate issues – probably the only thing these issues will have in common is that it will take a bunch of us working together to succeed.

If you have donor advised funds held at Funding Exchange, you’re already a shareholder activist – we reviewed this opportunity and moved quickly to be a part of it. This story will continue to unfold over 2012 as the resolutions are taken up at annual meetings, so stay tuned for updates.

Owning even a small amount of stock gives us a stake in the company and the ability to force some level of corporate accountability. Once you are a shareholder, you have a vote, it’s just a question of how you use it.