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NY state urges Aetna to reveal political spending

By MICHAEL VIRTANEN, Associated Press
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is urging insurance giant Aetna Inc. to publicly disclose all its direct and indirect spending on politics and lobbying, filing a shareholder resolution as trustee of the state workers' retirement fund.

The Common Retirement Fund owns more than 1.4 million Aetna shares worth about $66 million. A coalition of some other shareholders, including F&C Management Ltd., UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust and the Unitarian Universalist Association, also filed a similar resolution this month.

"The company has engaged in controversial political giving that has harmed its reputation and potentially hurt shareholder value," DiNapoli said Thursday. "Full disclosure of Aetna's political donations made with shareholder money is the only rational way for shareholders to assess the risks that funding partisan political donations poses to the bottom line."

According to the comptroller's office, Aetna inadvertently disclosed donations of $7 million last year to politically active nonprofits of American Action Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a filing with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

DiNapoli's resolution calls for specific criteria for analyzing whether to make payments to intermediaries for political purposes.

Aetna did not immediately reply to requests for comment Thursday.

The American Action Network, headed by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, describes itself as a tax-exempt "action tank" that promotes center-right policies and spent millions of dollars on congressional campaign ads attacking candidates it accused of wasteful spending. The Chamber of Commerce has lobbied Congress for repealing parts of the new federal health care law citing paperwork burdens on businesses, nonprofits and government.

The New York comptroller's office, with shares in other corporations that usually make up less than 1 percent of the totals, has pressed many to adopt measures requiring disclosure of their political spending and others for determining environmental damage, including possible future harm from a company's activities and potential liabilities for cleanups and lawsuits.

At 16 corporations this year, where the comptroller's office proposed fuller disclosure of political spending, shareholder resolutions were withdrawn at seven where agreements were reached. At nine others, they received shareholder support ranging from 7 percent at Pepsico to 47 percent at Anadarko Petroleum.

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In a supporting statement to the Aetna shareholder resolution calling for more board oversight of political contributions, DiNapoli says that's needed to ensure political spending is in the company's and shareholders' best interests. "Without such oversight, corporate funds can be used to pursue private managerial preferences or activities that are not aligned with a company's business strategy or values."

Copyright:(c) 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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