Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM), a maker of microchips for communications equipment, was sued by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for information about how the company spends investors’ money for political purposes.
The lawsuit, made public today in Delaware Chancery Court in Wilmington, was filed by the New York State Common Retirement Fund. It is seeking access to books and records that might shed light on whether contributions are in the best interests of shareholders.
The pension fund, which holds stock in public companies, “has a right to be properly informed about the use of corporate funds to influence the political process,” DiNapoli said today in a statement. DiNapoli said he sued after San Diego-based Qualcomm refused to turn over the data.
The fund is the third-largest public institutional investor in the U.S., managing $150 billion in assets, and the largest public pension fund investor in Qualcomm stock, with a $378 million stake, according to the complaint.
“Qualcomm was surprised by this lawsuit seeking the company’s records relating to political contributions,” Christie Thoene, a Qualcomm spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. “As the plaintiff knows from conversations we have had in the past, Qualcomm was already in the process of enhancing our shareholders’ ability to access Qualcomm’s political contributions on our website.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 “removed statutory restraints” on corporate support for political activities, the use of shareholder monies for such purposes “has increased significantly” and needs oversight, fund lawyers said in the complaint.
Even without legal obligations, dozens of major companies “voluntarily disclose their use of corporate funds” for state and federal candidates, political action committees, lobbyists, trade associations and other endeavors, according to the complaint.
Qualcomm spent more than $4.5 million on lobbying in 2012, DiNapoli said. Data from OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political donations, shows the company spent more than $6 million on lobbying each year from 2007 to 2011.
The Qualcomm Inc. Political Action Committee, based in Washington, contributed $166,500 to federal candidates in 2012, 53 percent to Democrats and 48 percent to Republicans, according to OpenSecrets.org. The PAC raised a total of $342,483 last year through Nov. 26 and spent $261,737, according to the website.
The top individual recipient listed for 2012 was U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, with $7,000. He was followed by U.S. Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, who received $6,500, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Qualcomm fell 30 cents to $64.45 today in Nasdaq Stock Market trading.
The case is New York State Common Retirement Fund v. Qualcomm Inc., CA8170, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).