REVIEW & OUTLOOKMay 8, 2012, 6:38 p.m. ET
Intimidation by Proxy
The campaign against corporate free speech targets WellPoint.The campaign to intimidate companies from exercising their free-speech rights is in high gear asshareholder proxy season arrives, and the most prominent early target is health-insurerWellPoint. The arc of this attack will be one of the election year's political leitmotifs, and itshould be on the radar of every corporate boardroom.In the favored new tactic of the left, unions and activists are using politicized shareholderresolutions to send a message to corporations: Drop support for free-market and conservativecauses, or you'll take a political beating. Last month saw the smear campaign labelling theAmerican Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as racist because of its support for Voter IDlaws. The real target was the free-market group's corporate donors, like Coca-Cola, whichactivists urged to stop supporting ALEC.The bullying sent corporations scurrying for cover. According to the union front group Changeto Win, Coke, as well as Pepsi, Mars, Kraft, McDonald's, Wendy's and Intuit, have dropped theirALEC memberships.Change to Win is now targeting WellPoint's annual meeting on May 16 when it will demand thatshareholders vote against board members Julie Hill and Susan Bayh (wife of former IndianaDemocratic Senator Evan Bayh) because the company has refused to disclose or stop all of itspolitical spending. Among the company's crimes? Corporate funding of, you guessed it, ALEC.The "controversy" surrounding ALEC, Change to Win writes, is a "timely reminder of thereputational risks of corporate spending." Translation: getting attacked by liberal activists makesyou vulnerable to more attacks by activists.Associated PressThe larger political goal is also to stigmatize and shutdown funding sources for any business group thatseeks to influence policy debates, such as the U.S.Chamber of Commerce. Unions are especially angryabout the transfer in 2010 of some $86 million by thehealth insurers' trade association, America's HealthInsurance Plans (AHIP), to the Chamber for whatChange to Win calls its "highly divisive ad campaign attacking health care reform proposals,including specific proposals which WellPoint explicitly endorsed."