On Tuesday, May 8, four student-members of the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC) attended 3M’s Annual Shareholder Meeting at the Saint Paul RiverCentre to speak on behalf of the Lobbying Expenditures Disclosure shareholder resolution. With the approval of the Board of Trustees’ Investment Committee, we voted affirmatively on the resolution, and urged 3M to disclose contributions to not only political candidates, but also to tax-exempt groups, which might lobby or endorse legislations without directly funding an election. Forrest Mcknight ‘13, Fadi Hakim ’13, Maile Cupo ’14, and Duncan Sallstrom ’15 attended the meeting as proxies of Carleton, which owns 3M shares as part of its endowment.
Unlike the previous meeting in 2011 that CRIC attended, however, we were greeted by a rally. About thirty people gathered outside of the building with the help of organizers from Common Cause, Public Citizens, and Take Action Minnesota, which are non-profits dedicated to increasing corporate political transparency as one of their public agendas. These groups are a part of a growing interest in corporate accountability across the country, which has generated rallies such as the picketing done by five hundred individuals outside of the Wells Fargo meeting in San Francisco last April. While we appreciate the importance of a public demonstration, our position as meeting attendees allows the 3M management to acknowledge that the lack of transparency endangers not only their public image, but also the long-term financial interests of shareholders as well.
Normally, 3M’s shareholder meetings are opportunities for retirees and employees to compliment the company’s performance, yet Carleton’s presence provided a more critical angle on corporate governance. CRIC presented three questions that challenged 3M’s refusal to disclose the dollar amount of contributions to politically active tax-exempt groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We expressed that “3M owes an obligation to its stockholders to make them aware of all its expenditures” and that 3M has not explained “its primary motivation for choosing to not make such disclosure.” However, in a mood similar to last year’s shareholder meeting, George W. Buckley, CEO and Chairman of the Board, refused to answer our question by continuously citing “the importance of being politically involved” without elaborating. Our voice was joined by statements from Mike Dean and Susannah Goodman of Common Cause, who cited studies on the reputational and financial risks of corporate contributions to electoral campaigns, yet 3M did not defend its refusal to give shareholders and clients full access to its political activities.
At the end, Buckley, who is facing retirement, expressed his inability to answer our repeated questions by saying that “I hope you will get an A in this class.” If this were a course on the accountability crisis in corporate America, we have certainly passed with flying colors.
Carleton Responsible Investment Committee is dedicated to ensure that the college’s endowment is consistent with our social, environmental, and good governance values. For more information about our work and Carleton’s corporate holdings, visit go.carleton.edu/cric.