Conservative shareholder-activists have turned up the pressure on what they say is liberal-leaning “woke” corporate culture with several proposals at annual boardroom meetings.
The activists said they felt buoyed by responses to moves by Disney and Kohl’s. Disney’s earnings were worse than expected in the first quarter as Florida stripped the company of preferential tax benefits because of its transgender political lobbying. Kohl’s shareholders rejected a liberal investor’s push to replace up to 10 board directors at their annual meeting Wednesday.
“Momentum continues to build for shareholders’ rights and against woke activism,” Elaine Parker, president of the Job Creators Network Foundation, told The Washington Times in an email.
Ms. Parker, whose advocacy group has launched a boardroom initiative, said Disney’s stock dropped about 25% since the company started battling a Florida law that bans lessons on sexual identity from K-3 public school classrooms.
“We’re optimistic that the Disney fiasco will turn out to be a milestone in this broader cultural debate,” she said. “We are winning, but some of the most important fights are still to come.”
Disney, which did not respond to a request for comment, claimed a small victory last week by narrowly exceeding expectations for subscriptions to its Disney+ streaming app.
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Meanwhile, shareholders at Verizon, ConocoPhillips and CVS Health voted down proposals aimed at exposing liberal political activism on issues such as racial hiring quotas and Chinese communist business ties after their boards of directors recommended against them.
“The more newsworthy aspect for proponents like us is that we have the opportunity to speak to directors and top executives directly at these shareholder meetings,” Paul Chesser, director of the Corporate Integrity Project at the National Legal and Policy Center, said in an email.
The policy center, which purchases stock in major corporations, demanded financial transparency for corporate funding of liberal advocacy groups at the annual shareholder meetings of Verizon and ConocoPhillips.
Mr. Chesser told Verizon shareholders on Thursday that Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg made “White guilt” donations during Black Lives Matters protests in 2020 “as he virtue-signaled his commitment to ‘diversity and inclusion by committing $10 million of company resources to so-called social justice organizations.”
He said the company failed to disclose how much money it gave to the civil rights advocacy groups of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Verizon’s board rejected the proposal on page 59 of the cellphone giant’s proxy statement, giving shareholders this reason: “We have appropriate governance processes in place, which confirm that our giving is aligned with our values and purpose.”
Verizon shareholders also rejected a proposal from lobbyist and Fox News commentator Steven Milloy that sought a report on the company’s business ties to China’s Communist Party.
ConocoPhillips shareholders voted down a similar proposal Tuesday from Mr. Chesser to audit their charitable contributions.
Activists from the National Center for Public Policy Research, which purchases stock in companies through its Free Enterprise Project, proposed an audit of CVS Health’s diversity, equity and inclusion hiring policies and employee anti-racism training program.
“What we are asking the company for is a report that focuses on whether, in its myriad diversity, inclusion and equity efforts, the company is discriminating against employees that it has not honored with the label ‘diverse,’” Scott Shepard, the project’s director, told CVS shareholders at their annual meeting Wednesday.
The board deemed the report unnecessary.
None of the companies that conservatives targeted last week responded to a request for comment.
The proposal that CVS shareholders rejected was the 27th that the National Center for Public Policy Research has presented at shareholder meetings so far this year. Others included Disney, Coca-Cola, Bank of America and Citigroup.
The research center urged shareholders to vote against all of the board members of Intel, Wyndham Hotel Group and Ford Motor Co. for their roles in promoting liberal policies. Still, all were reelected.
Investor William Flaig, CEO of the American Conservative Values ETF, which boycotts many of the companies, said conservative shareholder activism raises awareness about liberal bias in boardrooms even when the measures fail.
“Notwithstanding the markets sell-off, this week had some positive developments for politically conservative investors, I believe we have gained enough awareness to begin the battle on woke corporate culture,” Mr. Flaig told The Times in an email.
Michael Warder, principal at the Warder Consultancy financial services firm in California, said many companies will regret adopting woke policies to appeal to younger generations.
“American CEOs & board members should be wary of attempting to pacify a comparatively small group of leftist activists who attempt to gaslight them on race, gender, class and such issues,” Mr. Warder said. “So-called ‘Main Street Americans’ will respond to these attempts in ways that will affect their bottom lines.”
Jeremy Tedesco, senior vice president of corporate engagement for the Alliance Defending Freedom legal advocacy group, said conservatives have awakened to the reality that corporate culture no longer promotes the “essential supports of liberal democracy.”
“The increased conservative advocacy aimed at achieving these goals is welcome indeed,” Mr. Tedesco said.
• Sean Salai can be reached at email@example.com.
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