WellPoint won't disclose political contributions despite shareholder protests

WellPoint shareholders shot down a proposal calling for more disclosure of its political contributions during an annual meeting Wednesday, fraught with protests and interruptions.

The proposal, brought by investment firm Harrington Investments, called on WellPoint to provide semi-annual reports detailing its political and lobbying contributions. It was opposed, however, by 84 percent of WellPoint shares, reported The Wall Street Journal.

But before the voting began, protestors, many of whom are WellPoint shareholders representing union groups, interrupted the annual meting, questioning and criticizing CEO Angela Braly. Most of the interruptions centered on whether WellPoint secretly funded certain organizations, including conservative group American Legislative Exchange Council, which helped rollback collective bargaining rights for some state public employees in 2011.

Others charged WellPoint with subsidizing the America's Health Insurance Plans' (AHIP) efforts to oppose health reform in 2009, including spending $86.2 million on advertisements, polling and grassroots events. Some of the protestors even accused WellPoint of contributing the entire total to AHIP. Although Braly said those were "not fair characterizations," she wouldn't disclose how much the insurer actually donated to AHIP, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.

Braly added that WellPoint didn't make any contributions this year and engages only "in public policy issues that are core to our business." She said WellPoint needs flexibility for public policy funding issues and "will make these considerations very carefully," according to the Associated Press.

WellPoint said in a prepared statement said the company complies with all federal and state disclosure laws about its political spending and issues an annual report disclosing those expenses. Spokeswoman Sarah Yeager added that "some of what we report goes above and beyond what others in our industry disclose," reported the Hartford Courant.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article (subscription required)
- see the Indianapolis Business Journal article
- check out the Associated Press article
- read the Hartford Courant article