Google’s 2014 annual shareholder meeting attracted what may have been the largest protest ever on its Silicon Valley campus, and an acknowledgement by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt that shareholders are loudly calling for more political spending transparency, as well as a promise to come up with an answer.
Public Citizen organized with a range of groups including Forecast the Facts, Eviction Free San Francisco, and Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) to rally with more than 100 people on Wednesday afternoon in Mountain View, California.
Then Sam Jewler of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch entered Google’s shareholder meeting with Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management, who officially introduced the shareholder proposal calling on Google to disclose more about its political spending.
The proposal earned a 24 percent vote – which sounds small, but executives own all but 38 percent of the vote. That means almost two-thirds of voting shareholders supported the political spending disclosure resolution.
During the question and answer session, Public Citizen raised the question of why Google trumpets the value of opening up access to information around the world while hiding so much about its prodigious political spending.
“Shareholders investing in this company deserve to know how their money is being spent, whether those expenditures align with our values, or carry any risk, reputational or otherwise,” Jewler said.
“For example, as Tim Smith with Walden Asset Management mentioned earlier, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for example – Google is a member – and the Chamber opposes things like net neutrality, which Google obviously supports. The Chamber has also not been very good on taking action on climate change [editor’s note: that’s a big understatement], whereas Google has as one of its core values being a leader on climate change and investing in renewable energy.
“So I’m wondering, for one, how much money does Google provide to the Chamber of Commerce, and for what purposes? And, being that Google is one of the top corporate players in lobbying, and is also one of the less transparent in doing so, do you have any plan to be more transparent with shareholders and the public?”
“We work with a lot of groups, we support a lot of groups, as you might expect for a company of our size,” said Google’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond. “And they’re across the spectrum – we work with some people where we agree with them on many issues that are very important to the Internet, very important to our company, and we may disagree with them on a number of other issues. That’s true with the Chamber; for example, we very much don’t like their positions on copyright occasionally, which clash with ours, but on other issues it does make sense to work with them.”
Schmidt tried to play off the controversy, saying, “David, I’m confused, I thought the ALEC controversy was about Alec Baldwin?”
The crowd laughed, but Jewler pushed on, noting a political spending transparency index in which Google falls far behind tech peers like Dell, Intel and Microsoft.
“Let me summarize your request,” Schmidt said, “We need to be more transparent. And we’ve heard that from a number of other shareholders.”
“We get it,” Drummond said.
“Let us come back with some ideas,” Schmidt said. “But I think we’ve got a very clear set of messages from a number of shareholders already about this issue.”