Left-Wing Proxy Plays

COMMENTARY Jobs and Labor

Left-Wing Proxy Plays

Aug 17, 2009 4 min read

Former Distinguished Fellow

Elaine is a former Distinguished Fellow for The Heritage Foundation.

The Obama administration's decision to release a previously classified 2004 CIA interrogation report and appoint a special prosecutor to look into possible misdeeds by personnel involved in questioning high-value terrorists is a huge mistake.

It's almost as if - in addition to the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and on terror - the Obama administration has now declared war on the CIA, which is one of our most important assets in gathering intelligence for winning these conflicts.

First, these choices will likely have a chilling effect on the morale at the agency. Earlier this year Barack Obama himself vowed it was time to look forward, not back. (Of course, that is until it's time to look back.)

In addition to being another Obama policy flip-flop, these decisions will likely leave officers in the field wondering whether they should be more concerned about getting terrorists or getting lawyers.

It's also a major distraction to the CIA's embattled director Leon Panetta, who seems to be drowning in a sea of inquiries from his White House and the Democratic Congress. Doesn't he have more important things to look after, like Iran and North Korea?

(Some believe Panetta won't be around much longer, giving the already-rattled CIA its sixth leader since 9/11.)

The public release of such information will also allow al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorists to use it for propaganda purposes, allowing them to recruit new members and raise funds for training and operations.

The discretionary publication of national security information, though redacted, will also give allies pause. Why share secrets with the Americans if it's going to end up on the front page and the Internet? That could be very dangerous to our national security.

These events have a distasteful political dimension, too. It helps Obama distract from the disastrous health care debate, skyrocketing deficit predictions and concerns over his energy and environment agenda. It also demonizes the Bush administration.

In a clearly mixed message, the Obama administration did release a few additional CIA memos, showing the interrogation of some high-value terrorists yielded information that disrupted post-9/11 attacks.

Indeed, in the heavily-redacted 2004-2005 memos, the unidentified author calls the interrogations a "crucial pillar of U.S. counterterrorism efforts," helping foil 9/11-style attacks planned for Los Angeles and London.

It isn't by chance that we haven't been attacked in nearly eight years. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said that we owe the CIA a debt of gratitude for keeping us safe.

It's a sentiment the Obama administration should really conside

An awful lot of people who have never even run a lemonade stand are presuming to micromanage corporate conglomerates. General Motors Corp., now headquartered at the White House, is the most prominent example. Less well-known are the legions of left-wing activists attempting to micromanage companies through shareholder proxies.

A legitimate right of those who own company stock, the shareholder proxy process is increasingly being co-opted by political-issue activists. Their quest is, as a shareholder activist group called Green America puts it, "a socially just and environmentally sustainable society."

Activists have every right to espouse their views of utopia. But when they hijack the proxy process to advance their agenda, their advocacy comes at the expense of the millions of workers and ordinary shareholders -- like pension beneficiaries and mutual-fund investors -- who count on the bottom-line performance of these companies for jobs and retirement security.

Left-wing shareholder activists seek to leverage the mass economic power of institutional investors, such as pension funds whose managers are supposed focus strictly on their fiduciary responsibilities to retirees.

This trend has become so alarming that in 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor issued new guidance to pension managers and trustees, putting them on notice that such politically motivated proxy activity could violate their fiduciary duties under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

In addition to leveraging pension funds without the consent, or even knowledge, of most workers and retirees, these activists also pressure religious institutions and universities to use their investment funds to advance left-wing agendas.

They are aided by some unions that try to push union expansion and labor issues under the rubric of social responsibility. They are pressuring mutual-fund companies such as Vanguard Group Inc., Fidelity Investments and Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. to, as Green America stipulates, "wake up to the reality of climate change" and "vote for shareholder resolutions addressing climate risk at the companies in their portfolios, each and every time they have the chance."

Activist shareholder resolutions do not have to pass to succeed. The process itself can be so injurious to a company that management will cave to demands. Green America observes that: "shareholder action campaigns are often accompanied by coordinated consumer and media campaigns, resolutions represent damage to a company's reputation and branding, and a potential loss of revenue through negative publicity, consumer boycotts, and loss of investor confidence. In fact, the mere act of filing a proposal has prompted some companies to amend their policies. When a resolution succeeds even before it comes to a vote, investors will usually withdraw it from the ballot."

Shareholder resolutions have also been directed at corporate governance. Structural matters like these are of legitimate interest to stockholders, but it is noteworthy there is no concrete evidence that shareholder resolutions in this vein have had a positive bottom-line benefit for companies or shareholders.

If you work at one of these companies, own stock in them, are a mutual-fund investor, a pension-fund beneficiary or just have an interest in any institutional investment fund, you may want to find out if your and your family's interests are being compromised to advance a political agenda you may not support.

Elaine L. Chao was secretary of labor in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2009 and is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

r before it goes any further.

Peter Brookes is senior fellow for National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Washington Times