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PA Treasurer Backs Proposal To Remove Zuckerberg As Facebook Chair

Governor Tom Wolf
Joe Torsella was elected treasurer of Pennsylvania in 2016.

Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella is backing a shareholder proposal to push Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg out as chair of the company's board of directors.

The treasurers of Illinois, Rhode Island, and New York City also signed the proposal, filed Wednesday.

In a statement, the treasurers said the social-media giant needs more independent oversight after mishandling several controversies – from data breaches to allowing advertisers to exclude ethnic groups.

The Pennsylvania treasury controls a pool of long-term investments that own a total of 38,737 shares in Facebook, according to a spokesman for Torsella, Mike Connolly. Connolly said those shares are valued at $6.15 million.

Some of Facebook's controversies have been politically charged, with concerns that the spread of fake news could have swayed voters in the 2016 election. But Connolly said the proposal isn't a partisan move. He said a more independent board could make Facebook a safer investment.

“The idea is that these issues that Facebook has had and the much larger issue of how much power is consolidated in one person represents some threat to the company moving forward,” Connolly said.

Connolly added that Facebook, with more than a billion daily active users, is “the most powerful media company in history.”

“We’ve really never had media power concentrated in one company this way ever before,” Connolly said. “But it’s not just concentrated in one company; it’s concentrated mostly in one individual.”

In addition to serving as Facebook’s CEO and board chair, Zuckerberg also has 60 percent of voting power in the company.

“Not only does that represent troubling things for corporate power and the country at large,” Connolly said. “It’s a huge threat to shareholder value because what happens when that one person shows a lapse in judgment.”

The treasurers’ proposal is unlikely to succeed, precisely because Zuckerberg holds enough voting power to block it.

Still, Connolly said it’s valuable to question Zuckerberg’s dominance. By bringing more attention to the issue, Connolly said, the treasurers could persuade other large institutional investors to take similar action.

“And it becomes a little bit more of, frankly, a headache for Facebook in the short term,” Connolly said, “but something to engage with, and hopefully, [the company will] try to interact with those ideas that are coming from these treasurers for the long term.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.