In this presidential election year, Green Century Capital Management is putting pressure on companies to stop making political contributions.

Green Century organized shareholder votes on proposals filed at Target Corporation, Bank of America and 3M that would have required the companies to stop making political contributions. The political contributions resolutions join Green Century's other efforts this year that include putting pressure on companies to reveal the risks of natural gas exploration known as fracking and to reduce the environmental and health hazards of coal ash storage.

On the political resolutions, Green Century Capital Management, the investment advisor to the environmentally responsible Green Century Funds, filed the proposal to require Target to refrain from political contributions. Trillium Asset Management, a sub-asset manager for Green Century Funds, filed the resolutions at Bank of America and 3M.

Each resolution received less than 6% of the vote, which is not unusual for the first vote on a resolution and is enough for the resolutions to be refiled next year.

"The Supreme Court's January 2010 Citizens United decision reversed the long-standing prohibition on the unlimited use of corporate treasury funds for political purposes. Investors are increasingly concerned that such funds, which can be funneled to SuperPACs, trade associations and other organizations for political use, often without proper oversight or board and shareholder knowledge, could create a risk to shareholder value," says Green Century.

For instance, Target contributed to a gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota whose stance on some issues contradicted Target's corporate policies, prompting boycotts.

"Target has experienced firsthand the impact that controversial contributions can have on the company's reputation and employee morale, demonstrating that such spending can result in business risk," says Larisa Ruoff, director of shareholder advocacy for Green Century. "As a result, we believe the only way to eliminate such a risk entirely is to refrain from making political contributions." In a similar action, Green Century filed a proposal along with the Center for Political Accountability, voted on at the CVS Caremark shareholder meeting, requesting more transparency and accountability around their political contributions and lobbying expenditures. The resolution received 40.9% of the vote.

Green Century, along with the Investor Environmental Health Network, pressed ExxonMobil, Chevron and Ultra Petroleum to increase disclosures and reduce impacts on communities and the environment from shale gas operations dependent on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. The resolutions received approximately 30% of the vote in each case.

"It is time for these major oil and gas companies to take a hard look at how they are going to manage the inherent financial and environmental risks of their fracking practices," says Michael Passoff, senior strategist of As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group that filed the ExxonMobile resolution.

The storage of coal ash is also an issue Green Century continued to attack this year. It filed proposals asking First Energy Corporation and Southern Company to reduce the environmental and health hazards of coal ash stored in ponds, landfills and mines. Each resolution received about 30% of the vote.

"Each year, more investors ask corporations to look beyond simple short-term profits to sustainable, long-term performance. You can see the consensus building in this year's shareholder resolutions," says Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres, which helped coordinate the shareholder filings on fracking and coal ash.

"Unlike electoral campaigns, which require a majority vote, shareholder proposals require a much smaller threshold to make an impact," says Ruoff.

-Karen DeMasters