3M shareholders attending their annual meeting were met by a group of vocal activists from Public Citizen, Common Cause, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, Take Action Minnesota and 99% Power. The activists demanded that the Minnesota-based Fortune 500 company keep its money out of politics and called for more transparency in corporate political involvement. Standing in their way is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision, which ruled that, under the First Amendment, corporations and people have the same rights to free speech and political campaign donations.
Two years ago, 3M and fellow Minnesota-based company Target both came under fire for their political activities. Prior to the 2010 midterm elections, 3M gave $100,000 to MN Forward, a front group backing GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Target’s $150,000 contribution caused a consumer protest that was credited with hurting Target sales. The protest began with a Target consumer cutting up her Target charge card in a store, followed by a rally at Target’s corporate headquarters, during which activist delivered petitions with 240,000 signatures. Emmer’s pro-corporate position favored repealing corporate taxes, while limiting the rights of gays in Minnesota. Emmer narrowly lost the governor’s race to Democrat Mark Dayton in 2010, following a statewide recount.
Mike Dean, Common Cause of Minnesota Executive Director, explained that a number of shareholders, including an investment fund and Carleton College, were introducing a resolution urging the corporation to refrain from political spending. A recent study by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management showed that every $10,000 political contribution produced a 7.5 basis point decrease in a company’s stock value.
This resolution is among the first of similar resolutions to be presented to other major corporations’ shareholder meetings. A second resolution was introduced asking for greater disclosure of lobbying funds going to right-wing groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That resolution has been introduced numerous times at many corporate shareholder meetings, and each year it gets more and more support.”Their support of them (ALEC) is messing with our democracy!” said one protestor. As expected, the resolutions were voted down. The efforts here are merely an effort to plant a seed.