Comcast Corp. shareholders have for the fourth time rejected a proposal that would require the cable giant to report how much money it spends lobbying state legislatures and local governments.
The resolution, offered at Comcast’s online annual shareholders meeting Thursday, also would have required the company, a heavy lobbying spender in state capitals, to report its membership in and donations to trade associations and tax-exempt organizations that lobby at the state and local level.
Among such groups: the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes model legislation for state legislators on a range of policy issues including telecommunications.
“We think it's important that investors are aware of these types of relationships so that we can assess potential reputational risks,” said Jeffery Perkins, executive director of Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker money-management firm that spearheaded submission of the lobbying disclosure proposal. “It’s mystifying why there’s such resistance to providing greater accountability and disclosure …. Maybe I’d have a better idea if we saw the memberships in trade associations and the amount spent.”
The Comcast disclosure proposal cited the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of five years of lobbyist registrations from all 50 states, in which Comcast lobbied in 36 states. The Center for Public Integrity found that since 2010 the number of entities with either in-house lobbyists or part-time hired guns working in the states has grown more than 10 percent.
In its filing, the Comcast board recommended shareholders reject the disclosure resolution, citing “competitive concerns,” “unnecessary expense” and the cost of “diverting management attention” away from other matters. Comcast is the nation’s second-largest TV cable provider with nearly 23 million subscribers and the largest Internet provider with almost 24 million customers. The company also owns the national broadcast networks NBC and Telemundo, and the film production studio Universal Pictures.
“We value the input of our shareholders, and we met with Friends Fiduciary and their co-filers to listen to their concerns,” said spokesman John Demming. “The proposal’s been submitted repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected by shareholders each time.”
Comcast shareholders have voted down the proposal for four consecutive years. Even so, Comcast ranks high in corporate political transparency, according to the most recent an annual ranking of large corporations conducted by the Center for Political Accountability, a nonpartisan transparency advocacy group, and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.