WellPoint shareholders say no to political spending proposal

By Jeff Swiatek
The Indianapolis Star, May 17, 2012

At an annual meeting marked by shouts and a street protest, WellPoint shareholders on Wednesday rejected a proposal pushed by labor unions and liberal health advocacy groups to change the way the company discloses its political spending.

Union representatives and other protesters repeatedly interrupted Chairwoman and CEO Angela Braly after she opened the meeting and introduced proposals for shareholder voting.

One person presented a petition she said was signed by 15,000 people asking the Indianapolis company for more disclosure.

Outside, a group of about 60 protesters heavy with labor union representatives marched and chanted anti-WellPoint slogans outside the meeting at a Downtown hotel and later outside of WellPoint's headquarters on Monument Circle.

Dr. Rob Stone, director of Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan, criticized WellPoint, one of the nation's largest health-benefits companies, for donating to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has backed legislation at state levels to limit collective bargaining by labor unions.

WellPoint also has indirectly given money "to fund attack ads against the congressional bill that eventually became the Affordable Care Act," the group said.

The health-care overhaul expands federally funded national health care, though private insurers such as WellPoint still play a major role in the new system.

The company recommended to shareholders in its annual proxy that they vote against the disclosure proposal. Braly said her company complies with all legal disclosure requirements and also publishes an extensive report on its contributions and lobbying.

WellPoint later said a total of 84 percent of shareholders voting rejected the proposal calling for greater disclosure. Company officials also said a similar measure was rejected a couple of years ago.

Security tossed one shareholder, Michael Pryce-Jones, senior analyst of CTW Investment Group of Washington, D.C., out of the meeting for speaking out of turn. Pryce-Jones said he wanted to ask about political donations.

"It's not the way you conduct a meeting," Pryce-Jones said, standing outside the Hilton after he was escorted outside by three security guards.

Security barred Pryce-Jones from re-entering the hotel lobby, even though he said he had rented a room there. After about 20 minutes, he was allowed back in.