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Despite Shareholder Pressure, Corporat3Money Spigot Gushes Away

I have a nest egg, just like most working people have, where I tuck away a portion of my earnings in order to make things easier once it’s time for me to retire.

But, I wonder, what good is planning for the future if my retirement investments are being spent by companies like 3M, Target and Bank of America, to elect politicians who want to allow corporations to pollute our environment and ransack our economy?

This was the question kicking around my head when I joined other opponents of corporate money in politics during the 3M’s annual shareholder meeting earlier this week.

Protestors outside 3M shareholder meeting. Photo via 99% Power.

Despite the stormy weather, scores of protesters carrying signs with messages such as “Post-its, Not Politics” and “Corporat3Money OUT of Elections” rallied outside the meeting, which was held at River Centre in Saint Paul, Minn. Groups joining the rally included Common Cause, Public Citizen, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, Take Action Minnesota, MPIRG and others associated with the Corporate Reform Coalition and the 99% Power movement.

Several demonstrators went inside as proxies for shareholders who are concerned about the impact of corporate money in elections. Their concern in 3M’s case is well-founded – in 2010, 3M (like Target) gave $100,000 to MN Forward, a front group backing radical right-wing gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer.

I attended as a proxy of Trillium Asset Management, a socially responsible investment firm that put a groundbreaking resolution before 3M (and Bank of America too): a resolution that would stop the company from using its general treasury funds to try to influence elections.

During the question and answer session, several shareholders raised concerns about the corporation’s stated position – basically that the company needs to keep dumping money toward corporate-friendly politicians in order to “stay competitive.”

Outgoing CEO George Buckley heard shareholder questions, including mine, but gave glib and misleading answers.

When I asked whether 3M was putting money into any Super PACs or 501(c)4 attack ad groups, he lamely insisted that 3M “needs a voice” in Washington.

This is doubly misleading. Of course 3M’s executives have a right to make their opinion heard – just like every American citizen. But they shouldn’t be doing it with other people’s money – i.e., money that belongs to shareholders, the real owners of any publicly traded corporation. Still worse, a growing body of evidence shows that spending shareholder money like this is actually bad for business. As a shareholder, why would I want to let the company do something that hurts me politically and financially?

Public Citizen's Rick Claypool at 3M's shareholder meeting.

Despite support from many shareholders in attendance, the resolution to prevent 3M from spending its money in politics did not succeed. It did, however, receive enough votes to be re-filed next year, when more people will have time to understand how important this resolution really is. Support for responsible corporate governance is bound to grow as the 2012 election season exposes what the Supreme Court wrought by allowing the corporate takeover of our democratic process.

It’s invigorating to know that the movement to restore democracy to the people isn’t just making progress in communities and in Congress, but even from inside of corporations like 3M, Bank of America and Target.

To read my live Tweets from the 3M meeting, go to #corporat3Money.