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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is urging insurance giant Aetna Inc. to publicly disclose all its direct and indirect spending on politics and lobbying, filing a shareholder resolution as trustee of the state workers' retirement fund.
The Common Retirement Fund owns more than 1.4 million Aetna shares worth about $66 million. A coalition of some other shareholders, including F&C Management Ltd., UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust and the Unitarian Universalist Association, also filed a similar resolution this month.
"The company has engaged in controversial political giving that has harmed its reputation and potentially hurt shareholder value," DiNapoli said Thursday. "Full disclosure of Aetna's political donations made with shareholder money is the only rational way for shareholders to assess the risks that funding partisan political donations poses to the bottom line."
According to the comptroller's office, Aetna inadvertently disclosed donations of $7 million last year to politically active nonprofits of American Action Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a filing with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
DiNapoli's resolution calls for specific criteria for analyzing whether to make payments to intermediaries for political purposes.
Aetna said Thursday it welcomed ongoing shareholder dialogue and noted that a similar proposal last year was opposed by nearly 90 percent of the shares voted. Its annual report of political donations meets all federal and state requirements and appears on its website, spokeswoman Cynthia Michener said. The 2011 Aetna PAC report shows about $600,000 given to Republican and Democratic candidates.
"Aetna has been recognized for its open and transparent reporting practices," Michener said. The Center for Political Accountability ranked its disclosures ahead of all other health insurers, she said.
Donations to the two nonprofits were not included in the company's report on "political contributions and related activity."
The American Action Network, headed by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, describes itself as a tax-exempt "action tank" that promotes center-right policies and spent millions of dollars on congressional campaign ads attacking candidates it accused of wasteful spending. The Chamber of Commerce has lobbied Congress for repealing parts of the new federal health care law citing paperwork burdens on businesses, nonprofits and government.
Such tax-exempt social welfare organizations have been criticized by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for using their status to keep donors confidential while operating as vehicles for political activity, using issue ads to attack candidates. He has proposed nonprofit political disclosure requirements in New York, suggesting other states follow.
The New York comptroller's office, with shares in other corporations that usually make up less than 1 percent of the totals, has pressed many to adopt measures requiring disclosure of their political spending and others for determining environmental damage, including possible future harm from a company's activities and potential liabilities for cleanups and lawsuits.
At 16 corporations this year, where the comptroller's office proposed fuller disclosure of political spending, shareholder resolutions were withdrawn at seven where agreements were reached. At nine others, they received shareholder support ranging from 7 percent at Pepsico to 47 percent at Anadarko Petroleum.
In a supporting statement to the Aetna shareholder resolution calling for more board oversight of political contributions, DiNapoli says that's needed to ensure political spending is in the company's and shareholders' best interests. "Without such oversight, corporate funds can be used to pursue private managerial preferences or activities that are not aligned with a company's business strategy or values."