- - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The government usually hurts business by imposing rules from without. Now several former government officials are undermining a business from within while making themselves rich. Witness what’s happening at the technology giant Apple.

Tim Cook, the CEO at Apple, used the platform of Apple’s annual shareholder meeting in Cupertino, Calif., last week to scold skeptics of the fantasy that man can control the weather by installing solar panels on the roof and buying “carbon offsets.” Mr. Cook is a fan of such futile gestures and has spent lavishly of Apple’s money on them.

“If you want me to do things only for [return on investment] reasons,” he told his shareholders, “you should get out of this stock.” Perhaps investors and pension and mutual fund managers will do that. Getting a return on their money is why most investors buy stock.

The National Center for Public Policy Research put Mr. Cook on the spot by sponsoring a shareholder resolution that asks Apple to disclose its relationship with, and payments to, groups promoting the vague concept of “environmental sustainability” ahead of stock and fiduciary responsibilities.

That was pure insolence. “We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive,” snapped Mr. Cook. “We want to leave the world better than we found it.”

That’s a laudable goal. Steve Jobs, the genius at Apple, did indeed leave the world a better place, but by innovating, creating and discovering. The Apple products he left make it easier than ever to communicate and learn, which actually helps everyone. Plowing cash into activist groups chasing the unicorn of global warming doesn’t.

The sole job of a CEO is to maximize profits for investors. Every quarter, when a CEO meets shareholders to break down profits to the penny per share, shareholders can see that every one of those pennies counts, and they’re important to those who risk their retirement future with purchase of Apple shares.

If Mr. Cook wants to risk his own money to pursue the unicorn, he has plenty of it. He’s paid $4.3 million annually, and he got $377 million in stock when he took the top job at Apple in 2011.

Al Gore has $54 million in stock of his own, earned from pushing his various fantasies from his seat on the Apple board of directors. Apple even hired Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s radical former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, to boost “green” efforts.

The National Center for Public Policy Research isn’t convinced that Apple actually believes the high-minded stuff. Apple paints itself as green, to the shade of a ripe Granny Smith, spending millions to buy the loyalty of liberals such as Mr. Gore, Mrs. Jackson and the radical activist groups, but it does so to be left alone.

“In our view,” writes Amy Ridenour, the president of the research organization, “it isn’t because Apple is too green, it’s because Apple is brilliant at greenwashing.” Buy off some liberals now, avoid regulation later.

Providing full transparency, as the proposed resolution demanded, would have exposed what’s going on at Apple. “Tim Cook got a question that — had he answered it — could have illustrated the difference between Apple’s green reputation and real world Apple,” says Mrs. Ridenour.

It’s sad when large companies see buying superannuated government officials, exhausted bureaucrats and noisy activists as just the cost of doing business.

The world won’t be a better place when Mr. Cook and Apple leave it because they put a few solar panels on the roof. It is a better place because of the iPhone and the Macintosh. Instead of paying so much attention to pleasing liberals, Mr. Cook ought to concentrate on the next innovation at Apple.

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