Note: Exposing Corporate Political Hypocrisy Amid Shareholder Season

For too long, Corporate America has influenced our democracy in the shadows, harnessing dark money to push their agenda in Washington. Only now, in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and amid a wave of blatant voter suppression efforts, are corporations speaking up for a free and fair democracy. But actions speak louder than words.

In the weeks ahead, Pfizer, Boeing, and Citigroup will hold their first shareholder meetings since promising to “pause” political donations in the wake of the attack on the Capitol. Their shareholders are demanding transparency and calling for concrete steps to rein in potentially risky political activity, but all three companies oppose these commonsense resolutions.

As you cover corporate political spending and shareholder resolutions, it is important to tell the full story about these companies because their actions speak far louder than their words.

Boeing is against shareholders knowing. Meeting scheduled for Apr. 20, 2021.

Spin: Boeing enjoyed the positive press when it announced plans to abstain from all political contributions in the aftermath of the Jan 6. insurrection. In its statement to the press, Boeing said it must evaluate future contributions to ensure that they support those who “uphold our country’s most fundamental principles.”

Facts: Boeing opposes a shareholder resolution that would create a more straightforward lobbying report to better inform the shareholders of its political activities. This report would include company procedures that govern lobbying decisions, lobbying payment amounts, and the company’s membership in organizations that endorse model legislation. Boeing’s rhetoric and political spending are at odds – a reality that such a report would quickly uncover.

Boeing continues to maintain a relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite the Chamber’s stances on climate change. And while Boeing is quick to show it cares about COVID-19 relief by highlighting the number of masks the company has donated, the Chamber of Commerce has advocated against using the Defense Production Act to bolster the supply of PPE and has previously advocated for less pandemic relief.

Pfizer doesn’t want shareholders any wiser. Meeting scheduled for Apr. 22, 2021.

Spin: In January, Pfizer suspended PAC contributions to the 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed certification of the 2020 presidential election results. In an internal memo to Pfizer PAC, the company espoused that it should only support individuals that mirror “Pfizer’s core values” and spoke about the importance of a “vibrant democracy.”

Facts: Pfizer’s political spending directly contracts the values and “vibrant democracy” that the company purports to support. The company opposes a shareholder resolution set to be voted on later this month that would require the company publish an annual report analyzing how well its political spending aligns with its publicly stated views and stances. The shareholder resolution explicitly cites Pfizer’s climate hypocrisy – noting that the company has remained a member of the fossil-fuel-backing Chamber of Commerce while making public commitments to science-based climate goals. The resolution also calls out Pfizer’s praise of expanding health care coverage while making ongoing donations to the Republicans Attorneys General Association, which has led efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Citigroup opposes keeping shareholders in the loop. Meeting scheduled for Apr. 27, 2021.

Spin: While other companies merely ended donations to lawmakers who voted against certification of the election results, Citigroup didn’t miss the opportunity for even more positive press by announcing that it planned to halt federal contributions entirely. Stepping directly into the fray, Candi Wolff, head of global government affairs for Citigroup, told employees, “We want you to be assured that we will not support candidates who do not respect the rule of law.”

Facts: Citigroup opposes a shareholder resolution that requiring that the company create a report disclosing the company’s policies and procedures governing lobbying, the payments Citigroup has made for lobbying, and a description of management’s and the Board’s decision-making process for political activity. In response, Citigroup has made excuse after excuse about why more disclosure is a bad thing. Citigroup also claims to care about the climate crisis, yet it still donates to the Chamber of Commerce, which favors oil and gas.

Shareholders deserve to understand the risks companies have assumed by lobbying, contributing to political campaigns, and funding organizations that harm the environment, public health, and our democracy. Ultimately, the SEC should move forward with a rule requiring all public corporations to disclose their political spending. The SEC has seen over 1.2 million comments – the most in the agency’s history – on this rulemaking petition, including comments from the late founder of Vanguard, John Bogle, five state treasurers, a bipartisan group of former SEC chairs and commissioners, and investment professionals representing $690 billion in assets. Additionally, polling from 2019 found that 83% of voters support public disclosure of contributions to organizations involved in elections.