News

PfizerA movement by shareholder groups across the country to force transparency about political activity upon their companies is gaining some traction as annual meeting time approaches.

Those efforts aren’t necessarily new. According to CitizensVox,  shareholders have filed more than 500 resolutions calling for more transparency in corporate political activity since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, holding that corporations had the right to spend unlimited amounts of money calling for the election or defeat of candidates.

What are new are the bills being introduced in state legislatures across the country, including House Bill 636 filed here, requiring corporations to make disclosure and in some cases get shareholder consent before spending company dollars on political contributions or expenditures.

Companies and trade groups gave more than $48 million to races for state-level candidates in 2014, and more than $211 million to state-level ballot measure campaigns, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Here’s Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin, who’s also a professor of law at American University, explaining the underlying concept:

Even if citizens cannot keep executives from spending corporate money in elections, surely shareholders can stop it. After all, it’s their money, right?

Indeed, it is.

In fact, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United essentially invites a shareholder solution. The premise of the decision was that government cannot block corporate political spending because a corporation is simply an association of citizens with free-speech rights, “an association that has taken on the corporate form,” as Kennedy put it. But if that is true, it follows that corporate managers should not spend citizen-shareholders’ money on political campaigns without their consent.

Kennedy wrote that, if shareholders oppose political expenditures made by management, they will be able to correct the situation “through the procedures of corporate democracy.” This will be easy to do, he predicted, because all political spending will be thoroughly disclosed online: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.”

A number of corporations face shareholder proposals at meetings this spring, including two of interest in North Carolina: Duke Energy and Bank of America.

Duke Energy shareholders have refiled a request made last year that the company disclose the details of its corporate political spending, including amounts and recipients.  As noted in the company’s shareholder meeting notice, that proposal garnered approval from close to half of Duke Energy shareholders last year.

Here’s the Duke Energy shareholder proposal:

Duke shareholders

In Bank of America’s case, shareholders are asking for better disclosure of lobbying expenses. Below is their proposal:

BOA shareholders

Not surprisingly, the board of directors for each company oppose the proposals.

 

Commentary

DocwfoldedarmsOn Monday of this week, the North Carolina House Committee on Health met to hear from advocates for and against House Bill 200, also known as an amendment to North Carolina’s Certificate of Need (CON) law. While both advocates had strong arguments, there was something that Connie Wilson, a lobbyist representing the North Carolina Orthopedic Association and groups of ophthalmologists, said that didn’t seem quite right.

The most common argument that supporters of repealing or amending North Carolina’s CON law make is that costs associated with health services will decrease as a result of increased competition between hospitals and outpatient medical facilities. To use Ms. Wilson’s words, people are no longer “forced to go into higher cost facilities.” Unfortunately, supporters of CON law amendments and repeal do not present the other side, and that is how some North Carolinians could be “forced” out of the health care safety net.

The state of Georgia was presented to the House Health Committee as an example of how amending CON laws can lead to positive health care outcomes. In 2008, Georgia amended its CON law so that joint-venture or single-specialty ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) are exempt from CON laws. However, Georgia’s amendment to the CON law was not a magic bullet as Georgia still experiences yearly increases in health care expenditures like other states with CON laws.

More importantly, supporters of amending CON laws did not present data on how the amendment impacted rural hospitals in Georgia. For example, Telfair Regional Hospital closed in 2008 — the same year ASCs became exempt from CON laws in Georgia. Since that first closing, five additional rural hospitals in Georgia experienced closures. This leaves many people without primary and emergency health care.

North Carolina has already experienced two rural hospital closures since 2010 and risking additional closures will leave many residents without a medical home. Even though, HB 200 contains a provision allowing rural hospitals to approve ASCs – the bill considers a hospital as “rural” if it is located in a county with fewer than 100,000 residents – it does not take into account surrounding counties that depend on that one hospital for health care. What’s more, HB 200 also includes a provision requiring that at least seven percent of health services should be charity care. Considering that 20 percent of rural residents are uninsured and nearly one-quarter of rural residents live at or below the federal poverty line, seven percent charity care does not seem adequate. If rural hospitals become even more strained and the legislature does not expand Medicaid, where will rural residents receive care? As stated in previous posts, CON laws help ensure that all North Carolinians have access to health care and that hospitals and health services facilities don’t just provide services in wealthier counties.

Commentary

pv-423It didn’t take long for state lawmakers to fire up women’s health advocates with the anti-choice bill that was unveiled and rammed through the House Health Committee yesterday morning.

Advocates at NOW, Planned Parenthood and other organizations have announced a rally at the state Legislative Building this morning at 10:45. You can learn more at the Stand Up for Women North Carolina Facebook page by clicking here.

News

Teachers with an interest in politics may want to read up on Senator Andy Well’s latest bill – but only after they’re off the clock. Senate Bill 480 prohibits teachers from campaigning for a candidate during the school day and from using a school’s computers or telephones for campaigning.

Wells says the legislation does not infringe on an employee’s rights, the bill simply will have teachers comply with the same set of rules as all other state workers.

Senator Jerry Tillman called the bill “long overdue.” But some members of the Senate Education Committee say the bill raises additional questions that need to be clarified before it becomes law.

* Can a teacher tell their students to make sure their parents vote for a pro-education candidate?
* Can a teacher attending a PTA meeting take a stand on a policy issue?
* If a local district has a school construction bond issue on the ballot, can a teacher lobby for its passage?
* Would this also apply to a superintendent, when it’s less clear when they are off-duty?

SB 480 passed on a voice vote with legislative staffers promising to further review the bill’s language and intent as it heads to the Judiciary I Committee.

To read the full bill, click here. To watch a portion of Wednesday’s committee hearing, click below.

YouTube Preview Image

 

Commentary, Justice Denied for McCollum and Brown
Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Another day, another decision by Gov. Pat McCrory to deny justice to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years behind bars for a rape and murder they did not commit.

Brown and McCollum were freed last September after the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission found DNA evidence that proved another man had committed the crimes.

McCrory promised then he was ready to receive their applications for pardons of innocence that they need to receive financial compensation from the state for the years they were wrongly incarcerated.

McCrory received the pardon applications 223 days ago and Brown and McCollum are still waiting for an answer.

Instead of reviewing the pardon applications, McCrory spent this morning at a “golf day proclamation” in the old Senate chambers in the Capitol, an event that was closed to the media.

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