On Tuesday, May 10th, 3M held its Annual Shareholders Meeting in St. Paul. Three members of the Carleton Responsible Investing Committee (CRIC) – Fadi Hakim ’13, Kristen Vellinger ’12, and Professor Joel Weisberg – attended the meeting to speak on behalf of the Carleton Responsible Investing Committee. The committee seeks to address social, environmental, and governance issues in Carleton’s endowment.
Last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court case decision allowed corporations to contribute to political organizations without disclosure. In the last election cycle, several prominent Minnesota corporations made significant contributions to various political organizations. Target, 3M, and Best Buy contributed to the organization MN Forward, a pro-business PAC that subsequently supported Republican candidate Tom Emmer for governor. Emmer is known for advocating pro-business policies, but also for his anti-LGBT rights stance. Because Minnesota law requires disclosure of contributions over $100,000, these corporations’ contributions to Emmer’s campaign soon became public, and outrage ensued. Many people boycotted Target and Best Buy to express their discontent.
To address these concerns, several socially responsible funds filed a resolution with 3M requesting that the company further disclose its contributions and address the potential reputational and financial risk such contributions may pose. Since Carleton currently owns 3M shares as part of its endowment holdings, CRIC, which wrote a report to the Board of Trustees proposing that Carleton vote its shares of 3M in favor of this proxy. CRIC made this proposal on the basis of campus-wide survey results, and Carleton’s Statement on Diversity. The Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees unanimously approved this proposal, and Carleton submitted its votes in favor of the resolution several months ago.
The meeting began with a multimedia presentation narrated by CEO George Buckley, discussing the principles of innovation and creativity he considers responsible for the company’s record growth. After his presentation, a representative of MN Common Cause presented a resolution asking the company to consider its contributions to the National Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber contributes to various political organizations without disclosing the source of the funds, and frequently supports candidates having at least some policies antithetical to 3M’s own, not to mention Carleton’s (opposition to climate change legislation and healthcare reform, defense of BP, etc). Following the collection of votes the floor was opened to questions.
During this time, CRIC representatives presented a statement expressing their concern over these contributions, and sharing the Carleton Board of Trustees’ decision to vote in favor of the resolution. They also posed a question asking Dr. Buckley whether or not the company had expressed to Emmer their concern over his anti-LGBT stance, given 3M’s own diversity policies. Students from a similar committee at Macalester College also stood and expressed similar sentiments, and asked whether the company was concerned about potential financial repercussions as a result of their contributions.
Despite the variety and nuance of each statement and question, Mr. Buckley chose not to answer the questions posed. Rather than addressing the negative repercussions of undisclosed campaign contributions (especially once they are revealed), he instead stated that 3M chooses its political contribution recipients on the basis of their pro-business policies, and does not consider social issues in their contributions. So while CRIC members left without having had any of their questions answered, they hoped their voices had been heard by corporation management.
Both major Twin Cities newspapers covered the meeting and commented on the unexpectedly large segment of the time that was devoted to these issues as a result of the questions asked by CRIC and Macalester students. CRIC members were heartened to read the next day that the resolution calling for fuller disclosure of 3M’s political contributions received approximately one-third of all shareholder votes. This is a remarkably successful outcome in a system where most voters usually automatically support the position of management.
The CRIC members expect that the size of the pro-resolution vote also sends a strong message to 3M and other corporations that stockholders desire that management engages transparently and accountably with the political system.