Protesters to target 3M political contributions

Fri May 4, 2012 2:53pm EDT

(Reuters) - Opponents of corporate political donations plan to picket 3M Co's (MMM.N) shareholder meeting on Tuesday in a bid to get the diversified U.S. manufacturer to stop making political contributions.

About 100 protesters are expected to turn out at the meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, to support a shareholder proposal that would prohibit the maker of Post-It notes and films used in television screens from directly contributing to election campaigns, according to organizers.

"Their political spending policies continue to risk their brand and ultimately shareholder value," said Shelley Alpern, a vice president at Boston-based Trillium Asset Management, which submitted the proposal, which also asks 3M to ensure that any trade associations it is a member of not donate its dues to campaigns. Another measure calls on 3M to disclose how it spends its lobbying budget.

Directors of the St. Paul-based company urged shareholders to vote against both proposals, saying the ban on contributions would "imprudently" limit its ability to advance its interests.

"It is in the stockholders' and company's best interests for the company to be an effective participant in the legislative and regulatory process," 3M said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

A few hundred shareholders typically attend 3M's meetings. This year will mark Inge Thulin's first as chief executive.

The Trillium proposal traces back to a 2010 Minnesota gubernatorial campaign when Target Corp (TGT.N) became the target of a boycott after contributing to a group that funded Republican candidate Tom Emmer, an opponent of gay marriage. 3M contributed to the same organization.

Target and 3M both said they backed Emmer for his positions on business, not social, issues. Target later changed its contribution policy to assess a candidate's full agenda.

A similar episode unfolded this year when activists threatened to boycott corporate sponsors of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization behind the "Stand Your Ground" gun laws that contributed to the controversy around the fatal shooting in February of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Coca-Cola Co (KO.N), Kraft Foods Inc KFT.N and PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N) cut ties with the group, which then dropped its work on social issues, confining itself to business and economics.

A LIVELY SPRING

It has been a lively year for shareholder meetings.

Shareholders have pushed back against management, most prominently at Citigroup Inc (C.N), where an advisory vote rejected CEO Vikram Pandit's pay package. More than 40 percent of AT&T Inc (T.N) and Honeywell International Inc (HON.N) shareholders voted to split the chairman and CEO roles -- a higher-than-average number but not enough to pass the measure.

Even more noise has come from members of the "99 Percent" movement, who are protesting the influence of money in politics, low corporate taxes and rising home foreclosures. Last month, thousands of protesters converged outside Wells Fargo & Co's (WFC.N) annual meeting and about 100 protesters interrupted the start of General Electric Co's (GE.N) parley.

A similarly large turnout is expected at the Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Wednesday.

Protesters at 3M's meeting plan to take a subdued tone, picketing outside and asking questions inside.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Additional reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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