Whether Sprint Nextel shareholders support a resolution calling on the company to disclose political contributions depends on how you count the votes.
The New York City pension system, which holds 8.1 million shares of Sprint Nextel worth $41.5 million, proposed requiring that the company report its policies and procedures for political contributions and expenditures made with corporate funds; account for money used for political contributions and expenditures; and identify company officials who make decisions on political contributions.
Shareholders voted on the non-binding resolution at the company’s annual shareholder meeting May 10, and New York City Comptroller John C. Liu is claiming victory over the results, although Sprint Nextel says the proposal failed.
The company is counting abstentions as votes against the proposal, putting the final tally at 59% against and 41% in favor, according to company spokesman Jason Gertzen. But Mr. Liu, custodian and trustee of the five New York City retirement funds, which collectively hold $117.6 billion in assets, said in a news release that more than half (53%) of the votes cast — not counting abstentions — favored of the proposal.
Mr. Liu said in the news release that he is spearheading a national campaign to make companies disclose political contributions in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, removing restrictions on corporate spending in political campaigns.
“Investors, pensioners and taxpayers demand that corporations reveal their campaign spending,” Mr. Liu said in the news release. “This victory for opening the books on political contributions sends a message that corporations ignore at their own risk.”
Mike Garland, executive director for corporate governance for the comptroller’s office, acknowledged in a telephone interview that the company stated beforehand that abstentions would be counted as votes against the proposal. Mr. Garland added, however, that even if “35% supported the proposal, then it sends a strong message to the board.”
Sprint Nextel declined to comment further on the results of the vote.