Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Conflicts of interest of political donor shareholders

The more I think about it, the more troublesome I find it that Fidelity, and other institutional shareholders that make party political donations, have the right to vote on resolutions put forward by companies seeking authority to make political donations.

The important question is, how objective can an organisation that funds the Conservative Party (or any other party) be when voting on resolutions seeking authority to donate to the Conservative Party? In a real-life test case, we can see that Fidelity voted in favour of such a resolution. 

I am sure the intention behind giving shareholders a vote on political donations was not that politically networked asset managers could assist companies in making party political donations. So I think this does need dealing with.

I think there are two simple steps that would address this - 

1. Fidelity should disclose in its Stewardship Code statement that it has a conflict of interest when voting on resolutions relating to political donations. (It currently makes no mention of this conflict as far as I can see)

2. Fidelity should outsource the vote on such resolutions to a third party.  

This model could be applied to other asset managers faced with the same conflict.

More generally, maybe it would be a good idea for Fidelity and others to poll their clients on political donations. I suspect the large majority are unaware that it makes them. Given ongoing reforms to the funding of political parties, such as those relating to the unions' funding of the Labour Party, it seems a little odd that conflicts in financial relationships like those between Fidelity and the Conservatives are not being addressed. 

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