All posts by ajsuited

Big Money Doesn’t Like Being Held Accountable

Cross posted at Daily Kos:

Public policy battles that have nationwide ramifications tend to begin in California. The fight to eliminate the Defined Benefit Pension is no different.  The winners in the elimination of DBP’s aren’t workers (or taxpayers) but Wall Street with the fat fees a massive expansion of 401K’s would bring, and corporate boardrooms by weakening the nation’s leading shareholder activist organization, CalPERS.

From working for financial market and accounting reforms after the Enron scandal (and being a vocal supporter of more recent Wall Street reform), to cracking down on executive compensation abuse, CalPERS has been a leader in organizing shareholders against corporate malfeasance. And as a major healthcare provider, CalPERS spoke out in favor of healthcare reform. By challenging corporate power, it is not a stretch to state that CalPERS has created some powerful enemies.

In this age of economic uncertainty our policymakers should be looking to strengthen retirement security for all workers, but front group’s like Californians for Pension Reform (CPR) seek to further weaken it by muddying the debate.  

What is Californians for Pension Reform?

CPR’s president is Marcia Fritz and according to a recent California Watch article is a Democratic consultant. Although Fritz contributed to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Gavin Newsom in 2010, on she equates engaging unions to, “toppling a communist government,” a hyperbolic quote more akin to Glenn Beck than a so-called Democratic consultant.

As a ‘Democrat’ Fritz is simply a tool to provide CPR with bi-partisan cover.  Their advisory board is entirely composed of Republican political operatives (More Detail). In fact CPR is such a conservative front group, that even their webhosting provider, (Warning: Sound effects and FRAMES!) WebCommanders is full of right-wing clients.  

Fritz in arguably a rookie mistake, bragged on video about CPR’s “very large grant” from an out of state foundation and stated, “the thing that they wanted, is to develop a solution that can be modeled in the rest of the United States.” CPR touts transparency, but when questioned by California Watch about the identity of this out of state donor, they refused to answer.

Who are they protecting?

With over 30-years of shareholder activism, CalPERS has a track record of successfully challenging the status quo in corporate boardrooms.

Last year CalPERS launched their Majority Vote Initiative directly challenging clubby corporate board elections. Outside the U.S., many companies already require ratification of director nominees by a majority vote.

From CalPERS:

The proposed majority vote policy backed by CalPERS would require the resignation of any director who receives a withhold vote greater than 50 percent of the votes cast.

“Too often board elections are more like a coronation than an election,” said Joseph Dear, CalPERS Chief Investment Officer. “The majority vote is an effective tool for holding directors accountable for creating shareowner value and encouraging better shareowner-director communication.”

Many recognizable public companies were against this proposal including Apple.  Apple shareholders in February though backed the CalPERS initiated measure.

Research into the “CalPERS Effect” has shown positive returns for investors. A noted 2006 study found a positive 25 basis point (.25%) benefit from the CalPERS program, which equals about $3.1 billion in wealth creation.

“Both social investors and corporate governance experts are concerned that corporate managements need to be held more accountable to shareholders – this study shows that CalPERS actually derived an investment performance benefit by doing so,” Lloyd Kurtz, Moskowitz Prize administrator and senior portfolio manager at Nelson Capital Management, an investment advisory affiliate of Wells Fargo.

With CEO’s receiving increasingly outrageous salaries and bonuses, often based on short-term gain rather than building long-term shareholder value, a strong corporate watchdog like CalPERS is an obstacle to continued looting by CEO’s.

So again who is Californians for Pension Reform really working for?

P.S. This short video interview of CalPERS Sr. Portfolio Manager for Corporate Governance details the current issues CalPERS is fighting for and why big money wants to weaken them.