Will AT&T begin reporting when its political activity conflicts with company values?

Do AT&T’s publicly stated values ​​of women’s empowerment, equity, and democracy directly conflict with some of the elected leaders and laws it supports in Texas and beyond?

At least one group of activist shareholders says it is — and that’s pushing the company to clearly detail these conflicts in an annual report aimed at reducing risks to reputation and corporate value.

At its annual shareholder meeting on May 19, shareholders of the Dallas-based telecommunications giant will vote on a resolution that would require the company to release a report once a year outlining how its corporate values ​​align with its political giving. – or not.

Shareholder Advocacy Group as you sow filed details of its proposal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and said shareholders should approve it because AT&T’s inconsistencies pose a risk to the company’s value.

“We believe the requested report will motivate AT&T to monitor its political spending so that it does not erode shareholder value by diminishing the company’s reputation, consumer loyalty, brand, values, and corporate responsibility initiatives. ‘company,” the group said in a filing.

As You Sow cited a 2020 survey of more than 2,000 executives worldwide in which executives attribute 63% of a company’s market value to the company’s overall reputation.

As you sow point to the backlash Disney has had to contend after donating to Republican politicians who passed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill as something it hopes AT&T can avoid.

AT&T’s proposal is one of 10 similar proposals under consideration by shareholders of U.S. corporations this proxy season, including FedEx, Home Depot and Pfizer.

Stankey focused on dismantling the glitzy media empire of his predecessor Randall Stephenson to unlock value in AT&T’s underlying telecommunications business. But the company has also been inundated with criticism over the past year from progressive and pro-democracy organisations.

The scrutiny of corporate political donations rose crescendo after the January 6 insurrection and the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Corporate PACs have come under pressure to stop giving money to the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory. Many businesses have suspended donations and some have since resumed.

The Center for Responsive Policy ranked AT&T the fourth most active PAC in the nation for spending $2.6 million on politicians in 2020, the last general election year.

In the state of Texas, AT&T gave more than $1 million to candidates for the highest public offices in the 2020 election cycle, according to a To analyse Texas Ethics Commission data by Texans for Public Justice. The company was one of major donors to Republicans who sponsored the law banning almost all abortions, including in cases of rape or incest, according to the watchdog Popular information.

AT&T recently faced attack ads from Republican “Never Trump” group The Lincoln Project, which calls on customers to drop AT&T services for its reported role in supporting right-wing cable network OAN as well as criticism of civil rights groups to support politicians limiting access to the vote.

As You Sow’s proposal to shareholders specifically lists AT&T’s support for politicians and organizations that As You So says are holding back climate progress, limiting women’s reproductive rights and weakening voting rights as a risk to society. shareholder value.

AT&T’s Board of Directors recommends that shareholders vote against the resolution.

AT&T said it is participating in the policy process “in a bipartisan manner to support policies that sustain and grow our business and create shareholder value.”

Due to the highly regulated nature of the telecommunications industry in which it operates, AT&T argued that it was in shareholders’ interests that the company “continue to engage in the political process.” AT&T also deemed As You Sow’s assessment of its corporate political contributions “highly subjective”.

But the main reason why the company’s shareholders are rejecting the proposal? AT&T points to its 100% rating in the CPA-Zicklin Index 2021.

The index was created by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the DC-based Center for Political Accountability to measure how transparently companies report on their political activity.

“The index score only addresses a company’s policies and practices, but it does not make a value judgment in terms of alignment,” said CPA director Bruce Freed. The Dallas Morning News.

AT&T is no stranger to shareholder activism. In the past, some activists have tilted to see more transparency surrounding the company’s political engagement while others have pressured the company to restructure or take other steps to raise the stock price. of his actions.

Freed likes AT&T’s political disclosure policies and said the company has improved its transparency since it was revealed that the company paid large sums of money to Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to gain access to the Trump administration. The embarrassment led AT&T to bow to activists in 2019 and release additional information about its political activity.

“A company may have policies, but you always have a risk when you look at the consequences of the expenses and what the expenses are associated with,” Freed said. “Today, customers are much more responsive.”

Freed and the CPA created a score in 12 points political code of conduct which they plan to promote during the 2023 proxy season. Its goal is similar to that of As You Sow’s proposal: to help align corporate political spending with core values ​​and “obligations as a member of society”. society and participating in democracy”.

As You Sow’s proposal doesn’t specifically weigh in on what values ​​a company should or shouldn’t have or how it should express those values, Whistle Stop Capital founder Meredith Benton said. Benton acts as a consultant for As You Sow.

“It asks companies to detail their own values, put in place a system to monitor political spending against those values, and then report on how incongruity was identified and what was done.” , Benton said in a statement.

Over the past three decades, As You Sow has a proven track record of shareholder activism at major corporations.

The organization was part of successful efforts to end McDonalds’ practice of selling non-biodegradable polystyrene cups, end chocolate maker Hershey’s use of GMOs in sugar production, and pressure Apple and Best Buy to improve e-waste recycling programs.