3M, Pentair draw criticism for MN Forward donations

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On Oct. 28 three investment management firms announced that they’d filed shareholder resolutions with two more Minnesota companies that donated to a political action committee supporting Tom Emmer’s race for governor, criticizing the companies’ approaches to political donations. In August, two of the companies had filed similar resolutions with Best Buy and Target for their much-criticized donations, which came to light in June.


Shelly Alpern, a Vice President at Trillan Asset Management Corporation, told TheColu.mn in an interview that Trillian, Walden Asset Management, and Domini Social Investments hoped to follow the same path used in trying to persuade Target and Best Buy to be more judicious in their future political activities.


“These companies gave large contributions to MN Forward with the belief that the candidates selected by MN Forward would make the business environment better in Minnesota,” Alpern said. “What companies got instead was a national boycott; we’re concerned that they didn’t anticipate the possible negative risks of political contributions.”


According to a press release sent out by Trillian, the three companies control nearly 480,000 shares of common stock in 3M worth over $40 million, and Trillian – the sole filer in the Pentair resolutions – controls over 47,000 shares in that company, worth $1.5 million.


“We’re protesting in part because of damage to their brand,” Alpern said.


Alpern said that her company and Walden Asset Management had already had a preliminary meeting with representatives of Best Buy, and had a preliminary meeting with Target representatives scheduled. The issues, Alpern told TheColu.mn, were playing out according to the schedule of each company’s board meetings.


“[Best Buy’s] board directed management to talk to the shareholders” about the resolutions, Alpern explained, using the shareholder resolution filed with Best Buy as an example of how the process would play out. “They could come back to us with possible changes, at which point we could withdraw our resolution if we found them satisfactory. On the other hand, they could possibly purusue an action with the SEC to exclude the resolution from the ballot. That happens quite frequently in these matters, so it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if they did.”


Alpern said that even if the resolutions did not pass at the next shareholder meeting, she expected some kind of victory for Trillian and the other self-styled “socially responsible investors.”


I expect [these resolutions] to get high votes,” she told TheColu.mn. “Maybe not a majority, but 30% or more. That would send a strong message that these companies are walking a fine line and they’d better be careful in the future.”