Petition against BofA's political spending won't convince shareholders
A petition that has been circulating on the Internet for the last couple of weeks urging Bank of America [stock BAC][/stock] to stop political donations will be presented at the BofA shareholder meeting Wednesday.
More than 75,000 people have signed the petition online, which was organized by SumOfUs.org. Of those 75,000, 2,200 identified themselves as shareholders and 24,000 identified themselves as BofA customers.
On face, those numbers seem pretty impressive. But then you take a step back and realize how freaking huge Bank of America is.
As of Feb. 17, BofA had 237,902 registered shareholders of common stock. That means one out of every 108 of them signed the petition. The ratio for customers is even grimmer. Bank of America has an estimated 57 million customers. That means that just one out of every 2,375 signed the petition.
Those ratios are assuming people correctly identify themselves. Because of the nature of the petition, you can say your name is Willy Wonka and no one will question you. It is not monitored, checked or otherwise verified, and if you have five different email addresses, you can sign five different times.
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, founder and executive director of SumOfUs.org said that while it is true there is no monitoring or verifying, she doesn’t believe the numbers are inaccurate, and if anything, she believes the numbers of shareholders and customers were under-reported. She called the number of self-identified shareholders “remarkably high.”
She also doesn’t believe that just because the vast majority of the signers weren’t BofA affiliated will make a difference as to the weight of the petition.
She said because Bank of America is concerned with its public image, it would care what the general public had to say.
To be fair, this is a standard problem with online petitions. Very few are particularly official, and almost none are verified for accuracy.
Trillium Asset Management, an independent investment firm, is leading the charge on this issue from an investor standpoint. Shelley Alpern, vice president at Trillium, will formally propose BofA stop making political donations at the meeting and will present the petition.
While Trillium also posted a blog urging investors to support the movement, Alpern said she hasn’t done any further promotion of the issue.
But she said presenting the petition is not her main goal.
“My main purpose in attending the meeting is not to deliver the petition, but because I have a proposal on the ballot,” she said.
Alpern said she does not believe her efforts tomorrow will be successful, nor does she believe they will be successful in the next few years, but she’s going to keep trying.