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Harvard Corporation Pushes for Donation Disclosure

By Elias J. Groll and William N. White, Crimson Staff Writers

Over the past year, the Harvard Corporation voted on 26 shareholder proposals from companies in which the University holds stock, including voting to make several energy companies adopt goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and taking a stand in favor of public disclosure of corporate political contributions.

The Corporation voted to make ConocoPhillips, Mirant, and Exxon Mobil write quantitative goals for reducing their emissions and report on them to shareholders, a position the Corporation considered especially important given possible future federal regulation.

These decisions are detailed in the annual report of the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, made up of three members of the Harvard Corporation—the University’s highest governing body—which was released Thursday.

Like any shareholder of a public company, Harvard votes on resolutions brought by shareholders in companies it partially owns.

In voting its shares, the committee considers the advice of an advisory panel of faculty, students, and alumni, which considers the issue in depth and then presents its views to the Corporation Committee.

Over the past few quarters, Harvard has directly held between $1.5 billion and $2.25 billion in U.S.-traded securities.

The 26 resolutions Harvard voted on in 2010 are up from the 19 considered last year, but down significantly from the 100-plus considered in years 2008 and earlier, a reflection of new asset allocations adopted after the financial crisis.

The committee voted in favor of making ConocoPhillips submit a semi-annual report to shareholders detailing its corporate political contributions, but abstained from voting on similar resolutions at four other companies.

The resolutions at those four businesses included a clause requiring the “identification of the person or persons...who participated in making the decisions” on political contributions. The advisory panel said “they would have supported the request” without such language, but “expressed frustration” that the clause in the proposal would single out individuals.

The committee also considered several other environmental proposals, including a proposal for Exxon Mobil to prepare a report on the impact of a new drilling procedure for natural gas known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Some environmentalists fear the process poses risks to groundwater, especially as drilling moves nearer to populated areas. The Corporation Committee abstained on that proposal after its advisory panel was split.

Several of the proposals considered by the committee concerned Google’s corporate practices.

The Corporation abstained on a proposal that would have restricted the search giant’s ability to provide user information to the Chinese government if it potentially could place individuals “at the risk of persecution.” The proposal also could have required Google to assist users in bypassing Chinese government restrictions—actions that would make Google’s continued business presence in China uncertain at best.

All of the ballot proposals supported by the Corporation failed by a wide margin in votes of all shareholders—including the proposals put to the shareholders of ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Google.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer William N. White can be reached at wwhite@fas.harvard.edu.

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