The Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, along with a coalition of institutional investors, called on tech giant Google Inc. to increase its disclosure of its lobbying activities.
The transparency resolution was defeated earlier this month by an almost 10-to-1 margin at the annual shareholder meeting in Mountain View, California. About 14 percent of Google shareholders voted in favor of the resolution, which, according to Connecticut Treasurer Denise Nappier, is a strong showing considering that Google’s executive officers and board members own 62.7 percent of the voting power.
As of May 26, CRPTF, which includes state employee and teacher pensions, held 185,640 Google shares valued at $103.6 million.
“Nothing sows the seeds of mistrust more than secrecy and unwelcomed surprises,” Nappier said in a press release. “Shareholders have every right to know what political expenditures Google is making.”
According to the CPA-Zicklin Index of the Center for Political Accountability, Google has a 51.4 percent disclosure rate, which is below some of the other technology companies like Microsoft that received a 92.9 percent disclosure rating. The index found that Google does poorly in disclosing payments to 527 groups, such as governors associations and Super PACs.
“We commend Google for updating disclosure on its website on political spending and lobbying, but the company still does not disclose details about lobbying through trade associations, maintaining secrecy about its payments used for lobbying by these associations,” the CRPTF statement in support of the resolution stated. “For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent over $1 billion in lobbying since 1998, yet any Google funding of the Chamber is secret.”
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Google directly spent more than $15.8 million in lobbying in 2013. But that doesn’t account for the other money it gave to outside groups.
“It must disclose what it currently does not, including payments to trade associations,” Nappier said. “Google must also pull together in one document the disparate lobbying and contribution reports it files across the country — so investors don’t need to go on a scavenger hunt.”
Nappier estimated that Google spent approximately $31.35 million in 2010, 2011, and 2012 on federal lobbying, according to U.S. Senate reports. But this figure may not include grassroots lobbying to influence legislation by mobilizing public support or opposition. Also, not all states require disclosure of lobbying expenditures. The reports also do not include contributions to tax-exempt organizations that write and endorse model legislation.
At the annual meeting May 14, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt responded to the shareholder resolution by saying, “Let me summarize your request. We need to be more transparent? We’ve heard that from a number of other shareholders, so let us come back with some ideas.”
Google did not respond to repeated requests for comments over the past few weeks.