- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Conservative investors are becoming shareholder activists to battle what they call the “woke” gender and race policies of America’s corporate boardrooms.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a network of conservative private investors and state legislators, recently introduced model legislation that would stop state pension fund managers from introducing “woke criteria” into the investment selection process.

The National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative tank in Washington, is telling moderate and conservative investors how to use shareholder proxies to challenge liberal policies in corporate board elections.

The center’s Free Enterprise Project has purchased shares in corporations such as the Walt Disney Co., which it says has allowed conservative proxies to introduce proposals against “woke” ideology at more than 100 shareholder meetings over the past four years.

“Conservative activism is finally beginning to counterbalance progressive activism on issues like identity politics and climate change goals,” said Richard Morrison, a senior fellow at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Last week, the Free Enterprise Project published a guide — “Balancing the Boardroom: How Conservatives Can Combat Corporate Wokeness” — for investors who want to push back on the liberal policies of companies such as Walmart and Disney.

“For decades, the left was synonymous with counterculture. Today, it is the culture,” the guide states.

“So if we are to learn anything from leftists, to their credit it’s that counterculture done right can be an effective strategy,” it adds.

The guide urges conservative shareholders to “vote against every board member” of Nike, Amazon, Disney, Twitter, Apple, Walmart, Microsoft and several other companies.

It also asks conservatives to vote against 12 specific board members, including former Vice President Al Gore at Apple.

“Vote against these directors, and then join us in constantly reminding these companies that we sensible people of the center-right will not rest until their companies have returned to making products … and otherwise staying well away from political and social discord,” Scott Shepard, an author of the guide, said in a statement.

Diversity, equity and inclusion training programs at Walmart and Disney have taught their employees that White people are inherently racist, the guide says.

Such anti-racism training often asks employees to rank themselves on a “privilege totem pole,” which the guide said divides employees by race by consistently placing White employees at the top.

Walt Disney and Walmart did not respond to requests for comment.

Walmart has stated in diversity and inclusion reports that the retail giant has used the Racial Equity Institute’s anti-racism curriculum for training sessions with corporate officers and salaried managers since 2018.

“While the company does not agree with all of the views that were presented, we have found these sessions to be thought-provoking and constructive,” a Walmart spokesperson told The Times in October.

Disney successfully urged shareholders last month to vote against the National Center for Public Policy Research’s proposed audit of its anti-racism training for employees because it “mischaracterizes the company’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“Our training program is a critical piece of achieving these goals, including the company’s work to assure an environment that is free of discrimination and inclusive of all,” Disney said in its 2022 proxy statement.

Large corporations also have begun to take public stances on hot-button political issues.

The Free Enterprise Project report noted that Disney CEO Bob Chapek has publicly battled Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, over the state’s new law that forbids K-3 teachers from giving lessons on sexuality.

It pointed out a spike in corporate intrusions into state-level political debates over election integrity laws, climate change science and COVID-19 vaccine policies.

Mr. Morrison, the libertarian analyst, said companies such as Disney “correctly see these topics as trendy and high-profile, and they fear that if they don’t join the bandwagon their company will be singled out as irresponsible or insensitive.”

“Many corporate leaders seem to assume that once their company is seen as doing above the minimum amount of virtue signaling, advocates of woke policy will move on to the next target,” he said. “But appeasement of anti-corporate activists has always itself been a risky move.”

Meanwhile, conservatives show no sign of giving up their push to remake America’s boardrooms.

“So many of these CEOs are trapped in a bubble, surrounded by people who have bought into woke corporate culture,” said Ilan Srulovicz, CEO of Egard Watch Co. in Florida.

“They’re forgetting that more than three-quarters of the public is not on board and doesn’t want to be preached to,” the small-business owner added.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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