Washington, DC – A vote at Google’s annual meeting indicates that shareholders want the company to provide more information about its spending on lobbying, Public Citizen said today.
At the meeting, 9.6 percent of shareholders voted favorably on a resolution calling for the company to be more transparent about how it spends funds to lobby Congress and regulators. The vote was significant because when shares owned by Google executives are removed, the proposal was favored by 37 percent of investors. The proposal had similar support at last year’s meeting and may have contributed to Google’s exit from the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“Shareholders will continue to reiterate the call for transparency to Google until the company takes more steps to address their concerns,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Google has set a high standard for itself, but investors can’t hold the company to that standard without more information about its lobbying activities in Washington.”
At last year’s meeting, Google CEO Eric Schmidt assured shareholders that Google had gotten the message about transparency, saying, “Let us come back with ideas.” Since then, the tech giant has opened a 55,000 square-foot office on Capitol Hill and ramped up its lobbying. Google has spent more than $5.4 million on lobbying this year, and consistently ranks as one of the highest spenders in Washington. But it hasn’t come back with any ideas or made any public move toward providing information about its political spending.
Good governance groups and privacy advocates have focused on the disconnect between the company’s aggressive collection of user data and its unwillingness to disclose more about its own activities. While Google is often a leader in the tech world, in regard to transparency of its political spending, Google lags behind many of its peers such as Microsoft and Intel, according to the Center for Political Accountability.
Google is not the only corporation facing increased scrutiny of its political activity. Google’s resolution is part of a national trend of shareholders demanding more accountability from executives when it comes to company political spending and lobbying. Since the US Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United, which gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections, more than 500 shareholder resolutions have been filed asking companies for more accountability and greater oversight of political activity.
Increased scrutiny of Google comes at a time when pressure continues to build on the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue a rule requiring all publicly traded companies to disclose information about their political spending. The SEC recently received letters from former agency commissioners, a group of large foundations, and approximately 100 investors urging the agency to issue a political spending rule.