NY State Urges Aetna To Reveal Political Spending

The Hartford Courant

The New York comptroller, who oversees that state's employee pension fund, is asking Aetna to publicly disclose all of its direct and indirect political spending.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said Thursday he filed a shareholder resolution with the Hartford-based health insurer. Other investors who own Aetna shares also filed resolutions, including F&C Management Ltd., and an investor group led by the Unitarian Universalist Association — seeking greater board involvement and oversight of political spending.

The resolutions were filed earlier in December in response to Aetna's "accidental" disclosure of $7 million in donations to the American Action Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both tax-exempt non-profit organizations, DiNapoli's office said. It was included as "voter education initiatives," according to DiNapoli's office.

Aetna spokeswoman Cynthia Michener responded: "Aetna has been recognized for its open and transparent reporting practices. In fact, the Center for Political Accountability, which ranks the top 200 companies in the S&P 500 for their political spending disclosures, recently ranked Aetna number 15 – ahead of all other health insurers. Aetna's reporting of political donations meets or exceeds all state and federal requirements."

Aetna published its 2011 "Political Contributions and Related Activity Report" on Aug. 24, which included money for politicians and various groups, though a group of activist investors said the report didn't include all of Aetna's political payments.

In June, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, sent a letter to Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini asking him to stop using corporate funds to influence elections. The group, CREW, provided documents that it said came from an Aetna filing with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. It showed a $3 million donation to the American Action Network Inc. and a $4 million donation to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The American Action Network is a 501(c)(4) that describes itself as encouraging and promoting "center-right policies based on the principles of freedom, limited government, American exceptionalism and strong national security." CREW calls the action network a "shadowy" organization that "broke both tax and campaign finance laws in its quest to influence the 2010 elections."

The New York State Common Retirement Fund's has more than 1.4 million Aetna shares, equal to about $66 million. The Fund's resolution announced this week calls on Aetna's board of directors to amend Aetna's political contributions policy to disclose all direct and indirect payments to tax-exempt organizations it believes were used for a political purpose. That includes lobbyists and groups that contribute to political campaigns to influence the public.

The Unitarian Universalist Association's resolution has co-sponsorship from the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, the Illinois State Board of Investment, Marco Consulting Group Trust I and Mercy Investment Services.

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