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Activist Shareholders Cry Foul Over Google's PAC Activist Shareholders Cry Foul Over Google's PAC

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Congress

Activist Shareholders Cry Foul Over Google's PAC

June 6, 2012

Northstar Asset Management, a Boston-based activist shareholder group, is urging Google shareholders to back a measure that would put the contribution plans for Google's political action committee NetPAC to an annual vote.

The firm, which holds about $3 million in Google shares, charges that such shareholder oversight is necessary because NetPAC is giving donations to candidates whose stated positions are "inconsistent" with Google's express values," Northstar founder and President Julie Goodridge said.

Northstar cites NetPAC contributions to lawmakers including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., as well as Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It also lists votes in opposition to same-sex marriage, against tax incentives for renewable energy, and other legislation designed to regulate carbon emissions.

There are no Democrats on Northstar's list. Goodridge, who is known as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, said the list was compiled without taking into account NetPAC donations to candidates who backed the controversial anti-piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act - a position that Goodridge said is also violates Google's stated interests.

"It's not like we're just hating Republicans," she said, although she acknowledged she has little fondness for the GOP.

Google is urging a "no" vote from shareholders. In an opposing statement filed with the SEC, it essentially restated language from the transparency section of its Public Policy outlook.

Google said its policy is to "support candidates who have demonstrated a commitment to Google's public policy agenda, centered on policies to promote the continued openness and growth of the Internet."

It is commonplace for companies to hedge their bets by making donations across the political spectrum, and to ramp up donations to parties in power in both chambers of Congress.

According to Goodridge and her colleagues, Google is putting its brand at risk by supporting candidates that don't back its policies on green energy and intellectual property, as well as candidates with a stated opposition to gay rights, which Google supports through its human resources policy.

"My job as a fiduciary and as someone who does socially responsible investing is to push back on these companies and say hey, 'are you guys doing what you say you're doing,'" Goodridge said. "If you really intend to consistently violate your own values, this is a company that we cannot in all good faith invest in. Long term, we're going to get hosed, just like people who invested in Enron got hosed."

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