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February 04, 2015
Strong Shareowner Support for Lobbying Disclosure at Monsanto
    by Robert Kropp

A resolution filed by As You Sow gains one-quarter of shareowners' votes at biotech company's annual meeting, and a similar resolution is scheduled to be voted on in April at DuPont.

Last year, the legislature in my home state of Vermont voted to mandate the labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). By requiring labeling of GMOs, Vermont became the first state to do so; two other Northeastern states passed laws as well, which are on hold until other states follow suit.

Predictably, industry trade associations quickly filed suit to prevent the law from taking effect in 2016. Additionally, Reuters reported, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), an industry trade group, is “backing a proposed federal law that would nullify Vermont's labeling law and any other mandatory labeling of GMOs in the United States.”

Looming over the dispute, of course, is Monsanto, a member of BIO. In 2012, a California bill that would have required the labeling of food products containing GMOs was narrowly defeated after Monsanto and DuPont spent $46 million to influence the vote.

In response to such flagrant attempts to buy a vote outcome, As You Sow filed shareowner resolutions with Monsanto and DuPont, requesting that they refrain from making political donations to influence elections. As part of a coalition of sustainable investors coordinated by Walden Asset Management, As You Sow focused its resolutions this year specifically on lobbying expenditures.

Monsanto only discloses payments to outside groups when those payments are in excess of $75,000. “Monsanto spent $12.91 million in 2012 and 2013 on direct federal lobbying activities,” this year’s resolution states.

“Lobbying can create unnecessary risks to a company’s reputation by alienating their customers,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “Shareholders are demanding transparency so that we can determine whether the company’s lobbying could endanger our investments. Monsanto’s management has been channeling money through third parties to hide their involvement – it’s critical for investors to see the full picture.”

Shareowners voted on the resolution at Monsanto this week. About 25% of them voted in favor. The resolution requested the following:
1. Company policy and procedures governing lobbying, both direct and indirect, and grassroots lobbying communications.
2. Payments by Monsanto used for (a) direct or indirect lobbying or (b) grassroots lobbying communications, in each case including the amount of the payment and the recipient.
3. Monsanto’s membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation.
Description of the decision making process and oversight by management and the Board for making payments described in sections 2 and 3 above.

As You Sow’s resolution at DuPont will be voted on at that company’s annual meeting in April. Engagement by As You Sow with Dow Chemical resulted in the company agreeing to increase its lobbying disclosures.

“Studies show that 80% of Americans would boycott a company to protest its political spending,” As You Sow reported. “65% would sell stock in the company, and over half would ask their employer to remove it from their retirement account.”

During the 2014 proxy season, shareowners submitted resolutions requesting lobbying disclosures at 50 companies. The average vote in favor of the resolutions was 25.9%.


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