Banks Versus America, Eyes Turn To Corporate Responsibility

Originally posted on my own site - The Political is Personal.

This is turning into a very different kind of shareholder season, one that is every bit as much about civic concerns as it is about the price of any stock, as investors have been denied admission to their own annual meetings amid concerns over surrounding protests.

That is the opening paragraph from Fortune. A stark reality for corporations as the growing discontent from activists has moved into the boardroom. Progressive activists around the country will probably smile at the lede believing times are beginning to change.

Bank of America's shareholders meeting starts at 10 am eastern and the eyes of activists and financial gurus will focus on the outcome. Wells Fargo denied proxy shareholders entrance into their annual meeting two weeks ago. Many believe the same might happen here in Charlotte with roughly 1,000 protesters expected. Four marches will converge near the meeting's site. Protesters will even hold a boxing match - Bank vs. America.

Yet, Charlotte's City Manager Curt Walton declared the meeting an "extraordinary event" meaning the police have enhanced rights of arrest. Yup, a city manager (not the democratically elected mayor) did this to protect a corporation from citizens using their First Amendment rights.

Lisa Gilbert, Deputy Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division, believes the meeting has a potentially large impact on corporation's political spending.

Tomorrow, shareholders at Bank of America’s annual meeting will vote on a similar resolution that would halt political spending by the bank. That means no contributions to Super PACs. No involvement in the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). No pouring money into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which then buys attack ads in swing states.

Gilbert backs up the need for such a resolution with some handy facts.

Between 2002 and 2010, Bank of America contributed approximately $6.7 million in corporate money to political activity. The bank’s political action committee has been one of the top five contributors among commercial banks to federal candidates every year for the past decade, giving approximately $12.6 million. What’s more, the bank paid nothing in federal taxes in 2009 and 2010, but got almost a billion dollars back from taxpayers.

This type of political spending amounts to a quid pro quo and should be banned in a democracy. Businesses see these types of expenditures as an investment. One that has unprecedented rates of return. But it all comes at the cost of the public good. Our schools suffer, our infrastructure deteriorates, and our states go bankrupt. No wonder why people are getting pissed and taking their anger to the shareholder meetings.


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