Vanguard and Fidelity have consistently voted against shareholder resolutions calling for political spending disclosure and oversight policies.
When shareholders of Camden, N.J.-based American Water Works asked fellow investors to support a measure on corporate political-spending accountability this year, Vanguard voted no.
So it went for similar resolutions put forth at annual meetings at more than a dozen other companies, including Ford, PayPal, and Equifax. Shareholders calling for political-spending disclosure and oversight policies didn’t get support from mutual-fund behemoth Vanguard — which consistently voted against those resolutions.
The Center for Political Accountability writes a model shareholder resolution on political-spending accountability and published an analysis this month of how mutual funds voted on it in 2018. Among 46 large asset managers, support for the resolution rose eight points this year — from 45 percent in 2017, to 53 percent in 2018.
But some of the biggest institutional investors on Wall Street defied that trend. “Vanguard, Fidelity and BlackRock really have had abysmal voting records on these resolutions,” said Bruce Freed, the center’s president. Both Vanguard and Fidelity had zero percent support for the resolution while BlackRock had 4.1 percent support.
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Freed’s group argues that political spending is a significant risk-management issue for companies. “It’s a reputational threat, it’s a business threat, and it’s a legal threat,” he said.
Vanguard defended its stance, saying in an emailed statement that the company’s “investment-stewardship activities are not driven by any political, social, or environmental agendas.”
A spokesperson said Vanguard engages on topics “that we believe could affect our clients’ investments outcomes. In addition to conducting corporate governance analysis, our investment-stewardship team regularly evaluates whether and where environmental, social, or political risks could pose challenges to a company’s long-term performance.”
Fidelity said it doesn’t comment on specific companies or votes.
In contrast to those three money managers, firms such as PIMCO, Morgan Stanley and Lazard showed 100 percent support when their funds voted on the political- spending resolution this year.
The analysis is drawn from the Morningstar Fund Votes Database, which looked at how 115 fund groups voted this year and last. In total, 60 groups increased their support for political spending oversight in 2018, and 23 groups decreased their support
“There is a growing realization among the largest asset managers that social and environmental issues are material investment considerations,” said Jackie Cook, who founded Fund Votes in 2007.
For the biggest funds, “their power is in the votes they control, plus the example they set,” Cook said. “When they vote in support of a resolution, they really are signaling something about this issue.”
Last year, for instance, Vanguard and BlackRock voted for the first time to support resolutions on climate-change risk at ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum — and both companies, in turn, agreed to start disclosing those risks.