The shareholder coalition cited WellPoint’s reluctance to answer questions about a transfer of $86 million from the health insurers trade association to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2010, when the Chamber was actively opposing President Obama’s health-care overhaul. WellPoint is a member of the association, America’s Health Insurance Plans.
“This is the most egregious clandestine campaign funding we have ever seen,” said Michael Pryce-Jones of the CtW Investment Group, a labor-affiliated organization that is part of the shareholders’ coalition, referring to the payments from the trade association to the Chamber of Commerce.
The coalition’s effort to hold specific corporate board members responsible represents a new militancy in the fight to require companies to reveal their political activities. It also foreshadows concern about the potential for heavy spending by industry and labor groups on health care and other issues in the 2012 election.
Officials at WellPoint and the Chamber of Commerce rejected the investor group’s allegations on Wednesday.
“The target here is not a specific company but the ability of all companies to participate in public policy debates,” said Thomas J. Collamore, senior vice president for communications and strategy at the Chamber. “This is part of a coordinated effort by the left to silence the business community and create one-sided debates, the only ones they can win.”
At WellPoint, officials dismissed the notion that the company has been secretive about its political giving. On the contrary, spokeswoman Kristin Binns said, the firm discloses a great deal on its Web site.
“WellPoint complies with all disclosure requirements under federal, state and local laws,” she said, noting that the company publishes a “very extensive” annual report on its political contributions.
That report does not include details of the sort of special payment that the shareholders coalition said WellPoint made to the health insurers association.
Shareholder resolutions demanding disclosure and other reforms have proliferated in recent years. But corporate governance advocates say this seems to be the first effort to target specific board members for decisions about spending.
“This is a surgical strike, and it could be enormously effective,” said Nell Minow, director of GMI Ratings, which provides corporate governance information to auditors and investors. “Targeting individual board members may be the only way you make any progress” in forcing the disclosure of corporate political and lobbying activities.