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Investors, Good Government Groups, Environmentalists Ask EQT to Refrain from Political Spending at Annual Shareholder Meeting
Pittsburgh – This morning, PennPIRG, PennEnvironment, Public Citizen, Keystone Progress, One Pittsburgh, Common Cause PA, University of Pittsburgh students and others held a press conference outside gas drilling company EQT’s annual shareholder meeting to call on it to end the practice of spending corporate money in elections.
Clean Yield Asset Management has filed a resolution asking the corporation to assess the financial impact of refraining from political spending. The resolution will be voted on inside the meeting.
“It is all too easy for companies to be perceived as attempting to buy the influence of elected officials and other public policymakers,” said Leslie Samuelrich, senior vice president of Green Century Capital Management, an investment firm that supported the resolution. "As shareholders, we are concerned about the business and reputational risks EQT is exposed to by using company funds in an attempt to influence electoral campaigns in Pennsylvania, particularly given the already contentious nature of hydraulic fracturing in the state,” added Samuelrich.
The groups outside the meeting said they did not expect Clean Yield’s resolution to win a majority vote, primarily because large institutional investors will not vote on the issue, but they emphasized that the resolution is an important tool for highlighting the problem of corporate political spending.
“Big money contributions and corporate political spending distort our democracy by drowning out the voices of ordinary Pennsylvanians,” said Blair Bowie, Democracy Advocate for the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG). “In the case of EQT, this political spending is particularly troubling since they actually spent more money on elections than they pay in taxes. We call that representation without taxation.”
EQT, like many companies, exploits loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Between 2008 and 2012, EQT had an effective federal tax rate of -1 percent—it netted $20 million in refunds and subsidies while earning more than $2 billion in profits. In 2009, the corporation’s effective federal tax rate was -52.6 percent as it received $134.76 million back from the federal government while it made $256.31 million in pre-tax profit, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.
Meanwhile, EQT has poured nearly $328,000 on Pennsylvania elections since 2001 and $281,000 on statewide races across the country since 2003. On the whole, the fracking industry has spent $23 million to influence Pennsylvania politics since 2003, according to Common Cause PA.
“Shareholder efforts to prohibit EQT management’s abuse of corporate funds, and our efforts to protect the integrity of our government and elections demonstrate that that not only is the convergence of shareholder financial interests and government integrity possible – it is essential,” said Barry Kauffman, Executive Director of Common Cause PA. “Open, honest and accountable government coupled with free and fair election is an investment we all depend on.”
“The public is sick of corporate money buying corporate bias in both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.,” added Rick Claypool, online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and a Pittsburgh native. “We’re sending EQT an unmistakable message: Keep your corporate money out of the people’s democracy.”
The call to action, organized in conjunction with the Corporate Reform Coalition, comes in the wake of the first presidential election cycle after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. the FEC ruling, in which an estimated $138 million to $405 million in campaign contributions came from for-profit corporations.
"As an energy industry professional and an EQT stockholder, I am disturbed by these attempts to influence policy. I have spent many years working in the energy industry in developing countries, and have witnessed the destruction of communities and the environment by unregulated exploitation of natural resources. This destruction was allowed to happen because of the corrupting effects of corporate money on politicians. I don’t want Pennsylvania to become a third-world country." said Ritchie Tabachnick, a board member of Keystone Progress.
The relationship between the fracking industry and the state and federal governments is of great concern to environmental groups in particular.
“Since gas drilling began in Pennsylvania, we’ve seen residents have to cope with poisoned drinking water, destruction of our state forests, and health problems popping up in drilling-heavy parts of the state,” said Erika Staaf, clean water advocate for PennEnvironment. “Thanks in part to the huge political spending and fierce lobbying by the likes of EQT, we’ve seen new environmental protections blocked at every turn on the state and federal level, despite public support for such reforms.”
“EQT has proven itself as a subtractive and extractive industry - pulling resources away from the state. Meanwhile, the body of students at public universities are stuck footing the bill with higher tuition rates and health costs,” said Eva Resnick-Day, a recent graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, referring both to the public health impacts of drilling and to EQT’s effective tax rate at a time when higher education is being hit by budget cuts in the state.
For four of the five years 2008 through 2012 EQT’s effective state tax rate was negative, meaning it received more money back from state governments, including Pennsylvania, than it paid in taxes.
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