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Activists file shareholder proposals on lobbying expenditures at Chesapeake, Devon

Some shareholder groups are pushing for greater disclosure of political lobbying expenditures by public companies, including Oklahoma City’s Devon Energy Corp. and Chesapeake Energy Corp.

by Paul Monies Modified: May 6, 2012 at 9:40 am •  Published: May 6, 2012

“That was really an egregious case of shareholders’ rights being weakened,” Brunsting said. “As shareholders, we can’t evaluate business risk to a company unless we know what their expenditures are, and they’re not required to disclose all that information. I think a lot of people are going to be watching the shareholder meeting, and a lot of investors are going to be looking at all the issues on the ballot with increased scrutiny.”

Chesapeake said it already discloses political contributions with the applicable state and federal authorities. But the company said disclosing additional lobbying and trade association expenditures could limit its participation in the political process and have a “chilling effect” on corporate political speech.

“Our industry is heavily regulated and taxed at the federal, state and local levels,” Chesapeake said in its proxy. “The company must participate in the political process in order to effectively advocate for and against regulatory and tax policies that impact our ability to conduct our business. Our participation is exceedingly important because of the special knowledge and experience we bring to the process.”

Other Oklahoma companies disclose

Tulsa-based Williams Cos. already publishes a list of spending on political campaigns and lobbying, including dues to trade associations. So does American Electric Power, the Ohio-based parent company of electric utility Public Service Co. of Oklahoma.

Williams has disclosed corporate lobbying expenditures since 2009, when a shareholder group made the request, said spokeswoman Julie Gentz.

“They had asked for a number of disclosures and we were happy to talk with them about it,” Gentz said. “Some we were already doing and others we agreed to do, so we negotiated a solution and they withdrew the proposal.”

According to its 2011 disclosure report, Williams spent $1.1 million in dues to trade associations, and made a further $114,000 in contributions to political groups and candidates. Williams spent more on federal lobbying — an average of almost $4 million a year since 2008 — according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

AEP, which has electricity customers in 11 states, reported more than $11 million on internal and external lobbying at the state and federal levels in 2011. That figure includes almost $93,000 to Oklahoma-based associations such as The State Chamber and the Tulsa Metro Chamber.

Melissa McHenry, an AEP spokeswoman in Columbus, Ohio, said the company has disclosed lobbying and political expenditures since 2007. A group of AEP shareholders requested the policy and the company agreed, so it never became a proposal that was voted on through the proxy process.

Fisch said she prefers to see such disclosures decided on a company-by-company basis rather than a blanket law or regulatory rule. “In some companies, a high level of political involvement makes sense and in some other companies maybe it’s a waste of shareholder funds,” she said.

Because it’s the first time on Devon’s proxy, Smith of Walden Asset Management said he doesn’t expect to the lobbying expenditure proposal to win passage. Walden and others may try again next year, he said.

“Our goal is to engage this company and others in a serious discussion about the issue,” Smith said. “We’re trying to be persuasive. For us, a positive outcome isn’t necessarily getting a vote; it would be an agreement with the company and withdrawing the resolution.”

by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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