Conservative think tank asks Apple to investigate board member Al Gore for conflict of interest

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
Font Size:

A conservative think tank that holds shares in Apple is asking the company to investigate whether board member Al Gore violated the company’s business policies by advocating for actions that would be benefit him personally, but not necessarily benefit the company.

The National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) has filed the proposal in Apple’s Proxy Statement for the 2012 meeting of shareholders, which will take place in February. Entitled the “Conflict of Interest Report,” NCPPR has requested that Apple’s board of directors look into “board compliance with Apple’s Business Conduct Policy.”

The report, NCPPR wrote, should specifically, “Disclose the investment of board members that could reasonably be viewed as a financial conflict of interest; describe the role board members play in the development of the company’s policies and the process by which Apple determines if board member participation violates its Business Conduct Policy; disclose policies that could financially benefit board members.”

The target of this request, in particular, is former Vice President Gore, and what role he might have played in Apple’s decision to resign its membership from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009, citing disagreements with the chamber on environmental regulation.

“We are concerned that Apple’s policy on greenhouse gas regulations was developed to personally benefit a board member,” NCPPR wrote in the accompanying statement.

“Board member Al Gore is an outspoken advocate for regulation of greenhouse gases to address global warming concerns … Gore has personal financial interests in companies that would profit from government regulation of greenhouse gases. He is a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm that has made clean energy part of its core investment strategy,” the statement continued.

NCPPR alleges that since Apple is not in the energy business, nor is it “a major emitter of greenhouse gases,” that “global warming regulations are not a core business issue for the company.”

“However,” the statement reads, “global warming regulations are central to Gore’s personal investments.”

Resignation from the Chamber, NCPPR said, “could harm the company’s reputation” or its “business interests in other policy matters.”

Tom Borelli, director of the NCPPR Free Enterprise Project, said that Gore’s personal finances were very tied to government regulation of greenhouse gases.

“It’s no secret that Gore has a significant financial stake in clean energy and cap-and-trade would have boosted his investments,” Borelli said in a statement. “If Gore was behind Apple’s decision regarding the chamber, I believe his involvement was driven by a personal profit motive without regard to the best interests of shareholders.”

“I believe Gore was desperate for cap-and-trade, otherwise his millions of investment could go down the drain just like Solyndra,” Borelli told The Daily Caller.

Apple left the Chamber of Commerce in October of 2009. Borelli said the proposal was not filed until now because of the timing of the once annual shareholders meeting, and because of the new focus on the troubles of renewable energy companies like Solyndra.

The National Center cited news reports that pointed to Gore’s dual interests, and that a lot of the coverage of Apple’s resignation noted Gore’s presence on the company’s board.

In the proxy statement, Apple recommends voting “no” on the proposal, saying it has adequate measures in place to discern conflict of interest of board members, and that its motivation for leaving the chamber rested in the company’s own policies of trying to become more environmentally friendly.

“The company has a long-standing commitment to environmental responsibility,” Apple said.

In 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was making a big push to become more environmentally friendly, having “been a punching bag for environmentalists for years for its spotty record on environmental reporting,” and having been ranked 133 in Businessweek’s rankings of green corporations, while competitors Dell and Hewlett-Packard were ranked numbers one and two.

However, the article also questioned the importance of becoming greener to “the people who matter” — specifically, the consumers.

“Sure, activist shareholders have become increasingly important in recent years, pressuring big companies to deal with climate change, improve their environmental reporting, and so forth,” WSJ wrote. For consumers, the article goes on, since their greener cell phones and laptops won’t be saving them money, it wasn’t likely a big motivator for customers.

Apple went on to say that there had been no detrimental results of leaving the chamber.

“The company resigned from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce more than two years ago and has not seen ay impact on its business as a result,” Apple wrote in a response in the proxy statement. “The decision in 2009 did not ‘harm Apple’s business interests in other policy matters,’ nor does the board believe it will in the future.”

Neither Apple nor the U.S. Chamber of Commerce immediately responded to request for comment.

Follow Alexis on Twitter