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May 14, 2014

Shareholders and Activists Call on Google to Increase Political Spending Transparency, Lead on Climate Change Action, and Treat Its Workers Respectfully

Groups Present Shareholder Proposal to Disclose Lobbying Expenditures, Hold Rally Outside Annual Shareholder Meeting

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Shareholders and activists from around the country and region are rallying today at Google’s shareholder meeting, calling on the tech giant to stay true to its stated commitments to transparency, an open Internet and climate action by disclosing its lobbying spending and leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – two powerful groups that oppose those values. They are also urging Google to support good jobs for subcontracted security officers on its own campus, many of whom struggle to make ends meet despite the company’s staggering wealth. Groups will be using the hashtags #DontFundEvil and #DontBeEvil.

This morning and the previous two mornings, activists handed out fliers to Google employees at bus stops informing them of the company’s prodigious political spending on lobbying and its funding of groups that oppose taking action on climate change. Advocates also shed light on the company’s footprint in the local Bay Area community, where the eviction and affordability crises are escalating as companies like Google draw more high-income people to the region without supporting the right of longtime residents to stay. In San Francisco, Google is also perpetuating a two-tier system that privileges private over public transportation.

A shareholder proposal filed by Walden Asset Management, Connecticut pension funds and others, calls on Google to disclose how much it spends on lobbying and how much it contributes to associations like the Chamber, by far the largest corporate lobbying group, and ALEC, which pushes corporate-friendly model legislation through state governments.

Rally participants included Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch, Forecast the Facts, Common Cause California, Eviction Free San Francisco, Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), the Sunflower Alliance, Sierra Club SF Bay Area Chapter, 350 East Bay, 350 Silicon Valley, and the Raging Grannies. After the rally, activists planned to use proxies to enter the shareholder meeting to ask questions of Google’s top management and formally present the shareholder proposal. A press conference call summarizing the day’s events is scheduled for 3:45pm PDT/6:45pm EDT, at 800-875-3456; Passcode: VJ40808.

The shareholder resolution was filed as part of the Corporate Reform Coalition’s campaign to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly held companies to disclose political spending. Shareholders filed similar resolutions at Kraft and at Duke Energy, where 42.5 percent of shareholders voted for greater political spending disclosure. A similar resolution will be filed at Sallie Mae in late June.

Google is now one of the biggest players in corporate political spending, hiring lobbyists to the tune of more than $14 million last year, more than any other tech company. It also funds the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and ALEC, despite the company’s conflicting positions with these groups on climate change and an open Internet (as seen in their respective positions on Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and net neutrality).

“In its written rejection of our shareholder proposal, Google says it is ‘committed to transparency in all areas of our business’ – yet it won’t say how much it gives to highly influential groups like the Chamber and ALEC, or why it funds them,” said Sam Jewler, communications officer for Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch. “While it sells our information and extends its reach across new areas of our lives, Google has strayed from its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ mantra and is spending unaccountable dark money on lobbying and on funding groups that stifle action on climate change, Internet rights, voting rights, good jobs and more.”

“We believe transparency is necessary for shareholders to understand how their money is used to influence public policy,” said Timothy Smith, director of environmental, social and governance shareowner engagement at Walden Asset Management. “Shareholders want to know that Google is acting according to their values of being a good corporate citizen – but with Google providing so little transparency in its political spending, confidence is low. Google should fully disclose all lobbying spending and funding of groups like the Chamber and ALEC.”

"Google says that it cares about clean energy,” said Brant Olson, campaign director at Forecast The Facts, “but it's funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, a notorious enemy of renewable energy currently working to undermine solar energy in statehouses across the country."

"We filed a 4,000 page whistleblower complaint with the IRS last July showing that ALEC misuses charity laws, massively underreports lobbying, and obtains improper tax breaks for corporate funders at the taxpayers' expense,” said Helen Grieco, California organizer at Common Cause. “Google, don't fund evil--withdraw from ALEC and the Chamber."

Erin McElroy of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and Eviction Free San Francisco finds Google's actions on a national level reflective of its maneuvers in the San Francisco Bay Area. As McElroy says, "While Google is dodging corporate federal taxes and spending exorbitant sums in lobbying, it is failing to pay for full use of public infrastructure in San Francisco, and ignoring the impact that it has on local displacement. It relies upon secret backroom handshakes with our politicians, and actually thinks that it can buy its way into taking over our city. Google should pay its fair share – not to politicians but to the city of San Francisco."

“From funding model legislation that could put too much carbon in the environment, to contracting with a security company that perpetuates bad jobs in the community, Google needs to understand that its actions have an impact on the broader community,” says Silicon Valley security officer Ben Ortiz. “Security officers are counting on Google to support good jobs that will allow all families in the Bay Area to thrive and succeed."

“From funding model legislation that could put too much carbon in the environment, to contracting with a security company that perpetuates bad jobs in the community, Google needs to understand that its actions have an impact on the broader community,” says Silicon Valley security officer Ben Ortiz. “Security officers are counting on Google to support good jobs that will allow all families in the Bay Area to thrive and succeed."

"While Google has invested more than $1 billion in renewable energy technology and infrastructure, the American people cannot safely depend on the benevolence of entities that are unaccountable to the public to lead us into the clean energy future that we both need and demand,” said Taylor Smiley, facilitator of 350 East Bay. “We want to thank Google for driving the advancement of renewables in America and ask that they take their money out of ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, groups that encourages government to be accountable to corporations and not American citizens, so that we can secure a clean energy future within a functioning government accountable to its people, not its corporations.”

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