WellPoint faces shareholder ire over political spending

The Nathan Cummings Foundation

 

WellPoint faces shareholder ire over political spending

 

Several major companies are seeing shareholders take steps to monitor corporate political spending, but at WellPoint board members up for reelection are facing a no vote campaign.

FORTUNE -- This year marks the first presidential election year since the January 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United, which opened the floodgates on corporate political spending. So it's not too surprising that oversight and disclosure of these practices have been hot topics in U.S. boardrooms both this year and last year.

Late last year, the first Zicklin-Center for Political Accountability Index was published, ranking U.S. companies on their political spending disclosures. And this year, in the run up to corporate annual meetings, shareholders and major U.S. companies have been meeting behind the scenes to discuss improvements in oversight and disclosure practices. "Companies need to remember that shareholders have a right to know how their money is being spent," wrote Eric Sumberg, spokesperson for New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, representing the New York State pension fund, in an email. "Transparency and full disclosure will help to deter high risk political spending that could hurt shareholder value."

Aetna and WellPoint are two companies contending with shareholder proposals on political spending disclosure this year.

The Center for Public Accountability (CPA) rates the disclosures at Aetna and WellPoint as having "room for improvement." Both WellPoint and Aetna have disclosure practices that "leave significant room for serious misrepresentation of the company's political spending through trade associations," according to the Center's Political Accountability and Transparency Reports. According to the Center reports, both companies gave money to AHIP (American Health Insurance Plans). And $86 million in funds from AHIP were allegedly funneled to the Chamber of Commerce to lobby against health care reform, according to reports from Bloomberg and the National Journal.

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