- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York’s $176.2 billion pension fund for public workers this year has proposed 29 corporations more thoroughly disclose their political spending.

Three have agreed to do it: Comcast, Peabody Energy and CF Industries.

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the fund’s trustee, said Friday the proposal has received majority approval despite board opposition at Valero Energy and Dean Foods. At six others, it got at least one-third support.

The proposal calls for annual reporting of spending on candidates, political parties, ballot measures and direct or indirect state and federal lobbying. It also would require the companies to report spending that goes to any trade associations for political purposes. The resolutions are non-binding but can sway corporate boards to abide by what shareholders call for.

“Spending shareholder dollars on politics can be a risky business. When it’s done in the shadows it may result in spending that is contrary to the company’s long-term interests and cause real damage to a company’s reputation,” DiNapoli said Friday. “We hope and expect that companies will respond to shareholders’ overwhelming desire for disclosure and take the appropriate steps.”

The fund reported 51.8 percent of shareholder support at Dean Foods and 51.6 percent at Valero Energy. Other places it claimed substantial support were Marathon Oil, 43.2 percent; Western Union, 42.1 percent; Waste Management, 38.9 percent; Raytheon, 34.2 percent; Nisource, 33.5 percent; and The Travelers Companies, 33.2 percent.

The corporate boards opposed the resolution, saying they already disclose direct political spending on candidates or political action committees and the additional reporting would be mostly redundant and burdensome.

Valero said its tally of the shareholder resolution, including abstentions, showed the fund proposal had only 44.5 percent support. “In instances where a shareholder proposal has received a majority of the vote … Valero responds accordingly,” said Bill Day, spokesman for the Texas-based company. “But in this case … the proposal was not approved.”

DiNapoli spokesman Matt Sweeney said majority votes are customarily counted against no votes, not including abstentions. Majority votes for proposals are rare, usually prompting a board response and policy change, though some boards don’t want to admit them, he said.

Day said Valero’s position on shareholder proposals is clearly spelled out in its corporate bylaws and in regulatory filings and hasn’t changed.

A Dean Foods spokeswoman said the company takes shareholder input seriously and is considering what, if any, action to take.

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