OMAHA, Neb. (Reuters) - Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) shareholders on Saturday rejected a proposal to have the conglomerate run by Warren Buffett disclose its political contributions twice a year.
The billionaire nonetheless expressed sympathy for the proposal at Berkshire’s annual meeting, expressing strong opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which allowed unlimited independent spending by corporations and labour unions in election campaigns.
Two shareholder proposals that would have required Berkshire to report on its efforts to reduce methane emissions, and divest stakes in companies involved in fossil fuels, were also voted down overwhelmingly.
Saturday’s votes were expected because Buffett, who controls 32.7 percent of Berkshire’s voting power, opposed the proposals, and Berkshire’s board also recommended votes against them.
The proposal on political contributions, which won less than 11 percent of votes cast, was similar to proposals offered at many companies and came from Clean Yield Asset Management on behalf of shareholders Tom Beers and Mary Durfee.
Buffett, a supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s U.S. presidential election, said he believes Berkshire has made no political contributions at the parent company level in his 52 years at the helm, but some subsidiaries in heavily regulated industries “are probably going to have to make some” contributions.
“I personally disagree with the Citizens United decision,” Buffett said. “I think it is a minus in our democracy, and that big money can often distort the political process.”
He said he tells managers of Berkshire business units not to get personally enmeshed in political matters, but that this did not hold true for the businesses themselves.
“I‘m sure that they give money to people I wouldn’t vote for, but that is the reality of doing business,” he said.
“My heart is with you to some extent,” he nonetheless told a woman who made the proposal on Clean Yield’s behalf.
On the methane emissions proposal from shareholder Marcia Sage, Berkshire said its gas pipeline and other units have already taken steps to reduce emissions, and that a separate report was unnecessary.
The fossil fuels proposal from the Nebraska Peace Foundation would have required Berkshire to sell investments in oil refiner Phillips 66 (PSX.N) and other companies involved in fossil fuels over 12 years. Berkshire said complex social and moral issues should not determine where it could invest.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in Omaha, Nebraska; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Jonathan Oatis