Magaziner uses state pension fund to push for corporate accountability

R.I. GENERAL TREASURER Seth Magaziner is pushing for corporate agendas that he said will ultimately help beneficiaries of the state’s employee pension fund. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – In overseeing investments made through the state’s employee pension fund, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner isn’t just watching the stock markets.

His office recently issued an overview of actions it has taken this year to “strengthen corporate accountability” at the many publicly stock-traded companies in which the state’s pension fund invests.

As a multibillion-dollar investor in stock markets in the United States and overseas, Rhode Island’s pension fund holds shares in thousands of publicly traded companies. That allows the state to exercise opinions when companies seek votes from shareholders on items from electing board members and executive pay packages to environmental, social and governance issues.

“Every Rhode Islander deserves to retire with dignity and financial security, especially those who spend their careers in public service,” Magaziner said in a statement.

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“We expect companies in which we invest to engage in responsible business practices that protect members of the pension fund from financial risk,” he said. “Shareholder engagement allows us to advocate for our members and hold corporations accountable.”

In that spirit, Magaziner’s office said, this year’s “shareholder engagement” initiatives have included:

  • Filing a shareholder proposal with Navient Corp., the nation’s largest student loan servicer, pushing for stronger measures to address the student loan crisis and winning support of nearly half of Navient shareholders.
  • Opposing executive compensation proposals at dozens of companies, including IBM, Aflac, and American Express, where executive pay packages were not justified by the company’s performance.
  • Leading and participating in successful shareholder engagements that secured agreements from energy companies ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy to publicly disclose additional information on the use of shareholder money for lobbying and “climate denial” activities.
  • Opposing the election of board directors at more than 200 companies that failed to ensure adequate racial or gender diversity on their corporate boards.
  • According to Magaziner’s office, a growing body of research shows that companies with greater levels of diversity at senior levels have stronger financial performance and lower risk over time.
  • Joining a large coalition of concerned investors seeking stronger disclosures about a data breach at credit reporting company Equifax, which allowed 145 million Americans’ confidential information to be breached last year.

The 2018 Shareholder Engagement Review, with information on proxy voting, can be found at www.treasury.ri.gov/shareholderengagement.

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.