Fact-Checking Mountain Justice: Sound Facts, Tenuous Conclusions on Board Members’ “Conflict of Interest”

This semester, pro-fossil fuel divestment group Mountain Justice has demanded three members of Swarthmore’s Board of Managers recuse themselves from conversations regarding divestment. Mountain Justice claimed that these alumni, Rhonda Cohen ’76, Samuel Hayes III ’57, and Harold Kalkstein ’78, “had considerable personal and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.”  On April 6th, the group traveled to Philadelphia to protest outside Rhonda Cohen’s office to escalate their campaign.

But are these conflicts of interest real?

The Daily Gazette decided to examine these claims. We have concluded that while most of the facts Mountain Justice states are true, the conclusions they draw are dubious. The alleged “deep connections” with the fossil fuel industry are largely tenuous or outdated.


RHONDA COHEN

rhonda cohen

Claim: “Rhonda Cohen, vice chair of the Board of Managers, is also on the board of directors at the Glenmede Trust”

This is true. Cohen has been on the board of directors of Glenmede Trust since 2008.

However, there is no evidence presented that Cohen has personal ties to the fossil fuel industry. She is a retired partner from law firm Ballard Spahr Andrews, Andrews & Ingersoll LLP.

Claim: “The Glenmede Trust’s third-largest holding is its $219 million invested in ExxonMobil; in addition, it has $961.6 million (7% of its $13.9 billion in assets) invested in energy. “

This is mostly true. Glenmede has $185 million invested in ExxonMobil as of fourth-quarter filings of 2015, making ExxonMobil its third-largest holding. Glenmede has $792.7 million, or 5.4% of its assets invested in energy stocks as of December 31, 2015. Mountain Justice likely used data from previous quarters of 2015.

Still, the conclusion that these links constitute a conflict interest is tenuous. On its website, Glenmede states that it help manages asset of private individuals, families, and organizations such as endowments and nonprofits. Clients who seek diversified strategies may invest in Glenmede’s mutual funds, which capture the breadth of the US economy. This inevitably will include energy stocks, which comprise about 7% of the S&P 500, an index that captures the United States’ largest publicly listed companies.

Additionally, ExxonMobil is the third-largest constituent of the S&P 500, which helps explain why it is also Glenmede’s third-largest holding. Thus, Glenmede’s fossil-fuel investments largely mirror the S&P 500 and are consistent with a normal, well-diversified strategy. If we accept Mountain Justice’s logic, any investor whose investments mirror the general United States economy through the S&P 500 would have “considerable personal and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.”


SAMUEL HAYES III

Clsamuel hayesaim: “Samuel Hayes III has considerable influence on the Board’s investment decisions.

This is possibly true. As a board member emeritus, Hayes has no direct decision-making power, though he might have informal influence. According to Chair of the Board of Managers Tom Spock ‘78, “Emeritus members of the Board are highly valued members who can contribute institutional memory, among other things, but they are not part of the 39-member decision-making body.”

Claim: “Mr. Hayes has a long-standing relationship with the fossil fuel industry, having served 20 years on the boards of the Eaton Vance family of mutual funds.”

This is misleading. Hayes did serve on the board of Eaton Vance for over 20 years, according to his Harvard Business School profile, though MJ did not mention that he retired in 2007.

However, a directorship with an investment management company as large as Eaton Vance does not imply a “long-standing relationship” with the fossil fuel industry any more than it implies such a relationship with the numerous other sectors that Eaton Vance has invested in, such as information technology, consumer discretionary, finance, or healthcare. The only relationship established is that Hayes was formerly involved with one of many investment companies that invest in a broad range of stocks to diversify its holdings. No personal ties to the fossil fuel industry have been established.

Claim: “Eaton Vance’s second-largest holding is its $845 million dollar stake in ExxonMobil. Eaton Vance has $2.6 billion invested in dirty energy, or eight percent of its $32.7 billion total holdings.”

This information is outdated. ExxonMobil is Eaton Vance’s 14th largest holding, not 2nd. Eaton Vance sold 44% of its stake in ExxonMobil in the quarter ending December 31st, 2015. Energy was Eaton Vance’s seventh largest sector among its holdings, with 6.8% invested. This again mirrors the sector breakdown with the S&P 500. Mountain Justice likely used figures from previous quarters.

Hayes has retired not only from Eaton Vance, but also from the Swarthmore Board of Managers. Hayes cannot ‘recuse’ himself from any decision-making power, but only from participating in the conversation. This has been true during most of the divestment debate; Hayes retired from the board in 2012, while the divestment campaign began in December 2011. Furthermore, there is no evidence of “deep connections” to the fossil fuel industry. Hayes is primarily a retired academic. He has retired from being a director for an investment management firm with a normally well-diversified portfolio that largely mirrors the S&P 500. As a strategy to remove conflicts of interest from the Board, it would be strange to point to someone so far removed from the decision-making process of investing.


HAROLD ‘KOOF’ KALKSTEIN

harold kalkstein

Claim: “Formerly a manager of the Boston Consulting Group and founded its global energy practice”

This is true, Kalkstein worked at BCG for 22 years, but ended in 2004 and was a Managing Director. According to the college, Kalkstein also founded BCG’s global energy practice.

Claim: “The BCG recently published a report advising the legalization of Arctic oil drilling and a repeal of the ban on crude oil exports.”

This is only partially true. BCG co-authored the report with Harvard Business School in 2015. The report did call for a repeal on the crude oil exports ban, writing that “restrictions on exports created in response to the 1970s’ energy crises are no longer needed, and exports would boost U.S. economic and job growth while benefitting friendly nations.” The repeal on exports was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

However, The Daily Gazette could find no recommendations advising the legalization of Arctic oil drilling in the report.

Both of the report’s authors from BCG joined the firm in 2010, six years after Kalkstein left the firm. The third author of the report is a Harvard Business School professor.

Claim: “The BCG is also a paid advocate for oil companies. In 2012, the BCG was one of the highest-paid advocates for the Western States Petroleum Association, earning $648,875 that year for their advocacy.”

This is true. In its Form 990, the Western States Petroleum Association did list BCG as an independent contractor and advocate. In 2012, BCG wrote a report for the WSPA that assessed the effects of AB32, a law in California that sought to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Mountain Justice’s link of these two reports to Kalkstein is tenuous. There is no presented evidence of Kalkstein being involved with these two reports, which were published more than eight years after his retirement from BCG. No evidence has been presented for any ties that Kalkstein currently has that would be considered a conflict of interest for the Board of Managers. BCG is an incredibly large company, with 12,000 employees worldwide with $5 billion in revenue in 2015. The earnings from the WSPA report represent 0.018% of its 2012 revenues, which were $3.7 billion.


While many of Mountain Justice’s statements are factually true, we take issue with many of their claims of conflict of interest. For Cohen and Hayes, they are either current or former directors of investment management companies. These companies, by investing their client’s money in a diversified manner, have holdings of energy stocks that are consistent with a broad market index like the S&P 500. They are no more closely tied to the fossil fuel industry than any member of the Board of Managers, because Swarthmore itself is invested in the fossil fuel industry. There are no special connections nor any personal ties that were proven. For Kalkstein, while he may possibly have consulted energy companies in the past, the reports that MJ cited in their article have occurred many years after Kalkstein’s retirement. No existing ties to energy companies have been found.

The Daily Gazette would like to emphasize that this article is not evaluating the merits of the issue of divestment. We have consistently been a platform for both sides of the long-running debate to air their views. However, the recent change in Mountain Justice’s campaign has made serious allegations against Swarthmore alumni, and calls into question the integrity of the Board of Managers. We found it imperative to present the facts in context, and to show a different interpretation than what was previously presented.

Images of Board of Managers courtesy of www.swarthmore.edu.


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7 comments

  1. 5
    alumn says:

    MJ’s BCG story is so absurd, it shouldn’t even be called “tenuous.” If they are holding Kalkstein responsible for every BCG report and study, why not point to any of these below:
    https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/commentary/energy_environment_marten_ivan_easy_way_reduce_energy_consumption_right_now/
    http://www.bcg.com/expertise/industries/energy-environment/renewable-energy-market-model.aspx
    https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/energy_environment_distributed_energy_disruptive_force/
    https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/energy_environment_solar_pv_plus_battery_storage_poised_for_takeoff/
    https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/energy_environment_energy_efficiency_opportunity_winning_strategies_high_growth_market/
    https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/energy_environment_lean_achieving_excellence_in_energy_networks/
    https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/commentary/energy_environment_marten_ivan_three_principles_subsidizing_renewable_energy/

    And thus, after only five Google minutes, Kalkstein has become a champion and advocate of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

    To be clear, I don’t know him or anything about him. But MJ’s claims are analogous to “one time your mom’s neighbor sat next to a man on the bus who was convicted of child molestation, thus you are a pedophile.” It’s so disappointing to see Swatties stoop to that kind of argument.

  2. 2
    Ian G '18 says:

    People are surprised by this? MJ is an interest group, like pretty much every other group on campus. As such, it cannot help but twist the truth. This is a fact of life; any group that engages in political advocacy inevitably twists the truth (or outright ignores it, in the case of a certain orangutan-turned-blowhard-Presidential-candidate whose name rhymes with “lump”), which is why we as citizens have a responsibility to do our own research on top of whatever our particular ideological allies provide for us.

    Note: I am neutral on divestment. I think it’s good in principle, but then again I also think that communism is good in principle and look how well THAT worked out in Russia. I’m inclined to trust the Board on this, since they have decades of investment experience that I do not and invest the vast majority of their money in stuff other than fossil-fuel industries.

  3. 1
    Maria Rogers '13 ( User Karma: 14 ) says:

    Yes! Thanks for this. At a recent alumni event I was asked to sign a petition for these board members to step down. This is critical information.

  4. 1

    This editorial is talking past what MJ is saying without listening. Obviously MJ knows that investment in fossil fuels is considered part of a fair and balanced investment strategy – the point of the divestment movement is to push back against this. MJ is trying to stigmatize investment in fossil fuels… Duh…. In light of this the editorial board’s “it’s an industry norm” critique makes no sense. Obviously it’s an industry norm. That’s what MJ is trying to de-stabilize. Whether or not they’re right to try to de-stabilize this industry norm, or how they should do it instead, would have been the subject of a better editorial. I agree that personal attacks on Swat alums are not the right way to go about de-stabilizing this norm. How about recommending something else? Or critiquing the divestment movement?

    1. 4
      Allison Hrabar ( User Karma: 6 ) says:

      Hello Paul,

      Our editorial does precisely the opposite of talking past MJ: we are addressing their argument head on. MJ wrote that the Board’s decision not to divest was compromised by “conflicts of interest among these three Board members who have considerable personal and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry,” but the claim these three specific Board members have ties that exceed any average investor’s ties does not hold up to scrutiny. Some of their claims, namely that Boston Consulting Group advised the legalization of Arctic oil drilling, are straight up false.

      The Gazette is not interested in endorsing either side of the divestment debate, so a recommendation of alternate tactics would be inappropriate. Our interest is in making sure the Swarthmore community has access to the facts and their proper context.

      Best,

      Allison Hrabar ’16
      Co-Editor-in-Chief

  5. 0
    Elena Smith '09 says:

    Thank you for taking the time to research this and provide unbiased information about the trustees’ connections to the energy industry.

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