Activist Shareholders Make Headway Questioning Ameren’s Political Activities

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 24, 2014

Ameren shareholders Thursday voted down two proposals offered by activist shareholders, but the measures still drew significant support from investors at the company’s annual shareholders meeting.
The board of directors at the St. Louis-based power company had recommended that the two proposals be rejected.

The first proposal, which would have required Ameren’s chairman be an independent member of the board of directors, was backed by 26 percent of the vote cast by investors. Seventy-three percent of voted against the proposal, while 1 percent abstained.

The current board chairman is Thomas Voss, who stepped down as Ameren’s chief executive Thursday. Warner Baxter, who took over as CEO, is expected to also take the board chairmanship when Voss retires on July 1.

The second — a proposal that would require Ameren to disclose its lobbying efforts and any money given to nonprofit groups that write and endorse model legislation — was supported by 30 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, 51.5 percent voted against it, while 18.5 percent abstained.

Part of the second proposal was aimed at Ameren’s past support of American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed nonprofit group. ALEC has drawn fire from many Democrats for its role in developing and pushing model legislative bills that back conservative or pro-business causes.

As recently as August, the utility was a sponsor for ALEC’s annual meeting, according to the liberal advocacy group Center for Media and Democracy.

Ameren says that it is not a member of ALEC and that it would disclose any political contributions to that group.

“Ameren is committed to transparency, and our political contributions policy is available” on the company’s website, Ameren’s General Counsel Greg Nelson said in a written statement.

A spokesman couldn’t be reached for a comment on whether the Ameren provides any money, not just political contributions, to the organization.

Overall, the proposal votes seem to reflect investor interest in the particular subjects rather than dissatisfaction with the company’s management. On Thursday’s vote to approve compensation for top executives, only 4 percent of those votes cast disapproved the resolution versus 94 percent approving and 2 percent abstaining.

A third proposal, which would have required a detailed report on greenhouse gas emissions, had been withdrawn by the sponsor — New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, acting on behalf of the N.Y. State Common Retirement Fund — after Ameren improved its social responsibility report.

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