Nike shareholders reject proposal, but not before a little drama

Nike shareholders reject proposal, but not before a little drama

Annual shareholder meetings often are dry, perfunctory affairs with predictable votes and expressionless board members.

The Nike shareholders meeting Thursday was not much different.

However, the company’s 33rd meeting as a publicly traded company featured a bit of drama apart from the slick videos that bracket the beginning and end.

That’s because shareholders attending at the Tiger Woods Center heard a proposal challenging the company’s policy on disclosing political contributions. For the second year in a row, the North Carolina public employees union pension fund, which holds nearly 590,000 Nike shares, made the shareholder proposal.

The state was represented by Bruce T. Herbert, chief executive of Investor Voice of Seattle.

For about five minutes, Herbert gave some reasons for more disclosure, surrounded by about 100 people gathered in the meeting room on the company’s campus near Beaverton. Herbert stood a few dozen feet from Nike board chairman Phil Knight, who stared intently at his lectern throughout.

Herbert noted that corporations can now give money to third-party organizations without having to report those contributions.

“This system of secret front groups is neither accountable, nor is it fair,” Herbert said. “It certainly is not democratic.”

Nevertheless, shareholders, through mailed-in proxies and in-person votes Thursday, trounced the proposed revision by nearly 82 percent. Last year’s proposal was defeated with 78 percent of the vote.

Afterward, Nike issued a statement defending its existing political contributions disclosure policy.

The policy “calls for annual disclosure on our website of all direct political contributions to any candidate, political party, or ballot initiative in any year, that exceeds $100,000,” the statement says in part.

“Our policy also requires disclosure of all political contributions in any U.S. state where we make more than 50 percent of our political contributions in any year. We believe these disclosures provide shareholders meaningful information to assess any risks posed by significant political contributions, without revealing our strategies to competitors, who provide no disclosure.”

In other matters, shareholders approved board member appointments. In an advisory vote to the board, they approved a compensation plan for top executives and approved an accounting agency for the upcoming fiscal year.

— Allan Brettman