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By Cameron Berube

According to yet another investment scorecard, Vanguard is failing to advance the best interests of its investors.

The new scorecard, issued by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, ranks mutual funds based on their support for “Proxy Access” proposals. Seven out of the 10 largest mutual fund companies in the United States voted in favor of proxy access proposals the majority of the time. Vanguard, on the other hand, the largest mutual fund family in the United States, only supported proxy access proposals 18 percent of the time.

Proxy access, or granting significant shareholders (those that hold at least 3 percent of a company’s shares) the ability to nominate a director to the board of a company they invest in, is a bread and butter shareholder rights issue. Control of the board is central to the interests of shareholders because it provides them with a mechanism to weigh in on issues of corporate governance which effect shareholder value. According to the CFA Institute, a global association of investment professionals focused on promoting accountability and integrity in financial markets, “proxy access would serve as a useful tool for shareowners in the United States and would ultimately benefit both the markets and corporate boardrooms, with little cost or disruption to companies and the markets as a whole.”

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"Craig Holman"Statement of Craig Holman, Government Affairs Lobbyist, Public Citizen

Note: As a result of a recent order in Public Citizen v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), the FEC has released a report that has been kept under wraps for two years. It indicates that Public Citizen likely is correct in contending that Crossroads GPS is a political organization masquerading as a policy-focused nonprofit.

At long last, the public can read the first version of the FEC general counsel’s report on the political committee status of Crossroads GPS, a group co-founded by Republican strageist Karl Rove. The report, like the later report that was released to the public at the time the FEC deadlocked and declined to take action against Crossroads GPS, suggests that Public Citizen likely was correct in calling for Crossroads GPS to be classified as a political committee subject to disclosure requirements for political committees.

Crossroads GPS spent millions to influence the 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections – a pattern that may be repeated in the 2016 elections. Yet, because it is registered as a “social welfare” nonprofit organization rather than a political committee, Crossroads evades disclosure laws designed to let voters know who is trying to influence their votes.

There are only two major differences between this report and the final report from the FEC general counsels’ office – both of which argue that Crossroads GPS has indeed crossed the line into political committee status. The newly disclosed report places greater emphasis than the final report on the close link between Crossroads GPS and its super PAC sister, American Crossroads. The report also argues that Crossroads GPS should be viewed as having the “primary purpose” of influencing elections under either a “plurality” or “majority” standard for determining how much of an organization’s activity must be electoral in order to qualify as its major purpose.

The report weighs strongly in favor of Public Citizen’s complaint and its lawsuit against the FEC, which contends that the FEC acted arbitrarily and unlawfully in declining to pursue the allegation that Crossroads GPS should be classified as a political committee subject to the disclosure requirements imposed by federal election laws.

A robust democracy requires transparency. Voters deserve to know who is spending money to influence their choices at the polls.

Business for DemocracyBudget

Next Friday, Dec. 11, funding for the U.S. government expires and we will face a government shutdown unless Congress and the White House can agree to a spending package for fiscal year 2016. One of the key sticking points: ideological riders that have no place in a budget bill but that corporate-backed lawmakers want to attach to it anyway.

We’re talking about policies that deny women access to the health care provider of their choice; block safeguards that protect our homes, pocketbooks and workplaces; lower standards that keep our food, air and water safe; and more. Public Citizen and a coalition of nearly 200 groups are working to block the riders. Next week, members of the coalition are expected to deliver to Congress tens of thousands of petitions signed by ordinary citizens who want a clean spending bill with no riders.

Late Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan sent House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a proposed omnibus government spending package that included at least 30 dangerous policy riders. Congressional Democrats rejected the package, calling it a “tea party wish list,” and proposed a counteroffer.

If leaders in both parties are unable to reach an agreement by the end of next week, Congress could still pass a continuing resolution that would extend government funding through Dec. 18 – giving them until the following Friday to reach a deal.

Who needs worker protections anyway?

House lawmakers take aim next week on workers – specifically on workplace protections. Just consider the over-the-top title of this hearing, to be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections: “How the Administration’s Regulatory Onslaught is Affecting Workers and Job Creators.”

Expect lawmakers to attack everything from overtime pay rules, to protections against silica exposure, to a proposal that retirement advisers be required to put their clients’ best interests before their own profits. Never mind that the benefits of regulations greatly exceed their costs.

In fact, OSHA is severely underfunded and understaffed, and the agency can’t even begin to enforce the rules it has, many of which are inadequate.

RobertWeissman1Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
The coal baron Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, has been found guilty of conspiring to violate mine safety laws – a conspiracy that meant putting his company’s workers’ lives at risk.

For far too long in this nation’s history, coal operators have recklessly endangered their workers’ lives, with thousands of workers dying in accidents and many hundreds of thousands more dying and suffering from black lung and associated diseases.

Today’s guilty verdict should send the message to coal company executives that society will no longer tolerate this trade of miners’ lives for coal and profit. Indeed, it should send a message to CEOs across the country: No more recklessly endangering workers’ lives, and you will be held criminally liable if your actions – and inaction – cost lives.

The prosecutors who brought this case deserve immense credit, for it is no small thing to go after a coal executive in coal country, and prosecutions of corporate executives remain far too rare.

At a recent event, Senator Elizabeth Warren described postal banking as a triple win for the government, public and postal service. For the public it could be an essential new route to provide basic banking services to rural areas and inner cities.

One in four households are estimated to be underbanked – with high proportions of those under the age of 25 and in black or Hispanic communities. Basic banking services like ATM access, check-cashing, and small-scale lending could save these underbanked households $2,412 each year.

The underbanked are also most vulnerable to the practices of predatory financial service providers – nearly half of Americans would have to borrow money should they have a financial emergency that cost over $400. That’s the equivalent of an emergency room visit or a car accident. This has led to fringe lenders in the U.S. outnumbering McDonalds and Starbucks.

The poorest American families have been faced with exacerbated charges on their earned income while the majority of bank closures happen in the areas they live, the areas that are the most in need.

Even community banks and (in some cases) credit unions, which once existed to serve the underbanked, can be bogged down with account fees and the cost of staying open that make it impossible for lower income clients to continue banking there.

Postal banking is a rational solution to the many problems faced by the chronically underbanked, according to the book How the Other Half Banks, by Mehrsa Baradaran, who also spoke at the event.

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