Ecolab Investors Defeat Say-on-Political-Gifts Proposal

NorthStar Asset Management, the firm that introduced the proposal, said that the outcome of the vote allows it to pursue the topic again at next year's annual meeting-a road that it "very well may take."

An investor proposal that would have allowed shareholders to vote on political contributions before they were made was defeated by a significant margin at Ecolab's annual meeting on Thursday.

The proposal-which came from Ecolab investor NorthStar Asset Management, Inc.-received only about 4.8 percent of the votes cast, according to a Thursday regulatory filing.

Boston-based NorthStar had argued that some of Ecolab's contributions have gone to politicians who work to enact public policies that are inconsistent with the company's stated values.

“Many of those [contribution] decisions appear to have reflected the personal values of the management team, rather than the expressed values of Ecolab,” NorthStar said in a regulatory filing early last week.

In a statement issued to Twin Cities Business on Monday, NorthStar CEO Julie Goodridge said: “Over 10 million votes for this proposal in its first year is encouraging and gives us confidence that shareholders are concerned over the company's political contribution practices.”

NorthStar said that the outcome of the vote allows it to pursue the topic again at next year's annual meeting-a road that the firm “may very well take.”

Last week, the firm noted several of what it called the “most egregious” political contributions made by Ecolab's political action committee. Among them: $35,500 to U.S. Representative John Paul Kline, Jr., and $16,000 to U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann. Both are Minnesota Republicans who opposed hate crime legislation, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, and the repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, designed to reduce discrimination in the military, NorthStar said.

A $26,000 contribution to a Minnesota Democrat-U.S. Representative Collin Clark Peterson-was also cited. NorthStar said that he sponsored an amendment to the Clean Water Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act that would limit government regulation of certain discharge to waterways, and he voted for the deregulation of greenhouses gases. Peterson additionally opposed hate crime legislation and the repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell.

Ecolab's values are illustrated by its nondiscrimination policies, such as its “commitment to equal opportunity and affirmative action” and its public vow to “promote stewardship of natural resources and protect the environment,” NorthStar had said.

NorthStar had urged shareholders to vote at the company's annual meeting on Thursday for a proposal that would change Ecolab's current contribution practices. Rather than disclosing contributions after the fact and making them without shareholder approval, shareholders would have voted on anticipated contributions before they are made.

Ecolab recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal. In a proxy statement filed prior to the annual meeting, the company said that “substantial review is performed before any political contributions are made.”