At the People's Shareholder Meeting, we all are CME shareholders

According to the collection of non-profits that came out in force to protest the annual shareholder meeting of CME Group Inc. Wednesday, I'm a CME shareholder, you're a CME shareholder and all of their members are CME shareholders.

The company, the parent of futures exchanges Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade, was a key beneficiary of a tax-break package for select businesses that could cost the state $1 billion over the next ten years.

Protests at CME Group shareholder meeting
Protesters march past City Hall enroute to CME shareholders meeting. Photo: Brent Lewis

Social justice groups like Action Now, Stand Up! Chicago, the Grassroots Collaborative and ARISE Chicago argue that since public money is going to the CME, which otherwise could have been used to help avert cuts to social programs such as Medicaid, low-income childcare, and state workers’ pensions, we've all inadvertently become shareholders of the CME.

And their message as shareholders? Give the money back.

Protesters arrive at the CME building on Wacker Drive. Photo: Brent Lewis

"I'm out here to rally with my fellow citizens about the unfair tax giveaway that was given to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange," said Mary McMahon, who described herself as a senior citizen.

"At the same time basic social services are being cut and they are being cut for the very bottom wrung of our city," she continued.

Along with a rally and several marches, some members of the groups protesting CME bought company shares in order to get into the Wednesday's annual shareholders meeting. There, they mic-checked the proceedings and were removed by security.

The protests made several related demands:

  • first and foremost, for the CME to return the money it will be getting in tax breaks
  • a tax on derivatives, the products traded on the CME's exchanges
  • greater vigilance by the CME in policing its own markets to guard against price fixing and market manipulations, which some have argued have pushed up the price of some agriculture products that, in turn, has made food more expensive

The video clip below shows a snapshot of Wednesday's rally and street play, the "People's Shareholder Meeting," which tries to convey what a more democratic annual meeting might look like, according to the protesters:

The tax-break awarded to the CME was also given to Sears Holdings Corp. and CBOE Holdings for fear the companies would move out of Illinois and leave thousands without jobs in their wake.

But Elizabeth Parisian, policy analyst with Stand Up! Chicago is skeptical the CME helps working Americans.

"Let's talk about CME and jobs," Parisian told The Huffington Post. "This company takes home $1 billion per year, and they have 2,500 employees worldwide. That's about how many people went to my high school ... The idea that CME is a job creator, that's a huge stretch."

Protests at CME Group shareholder meeting
The protest heads back to the Thompson Center to meet up with the "Action Now" group. Photo: Brent Lewis

In a tongue-in-cheek editorial, Steve Bogira took the company to task for where they did decide to spend their money: donations to politicians.

Running an exchange is expensive business, especially with so many hungry mouths to feed. For CME—the parent of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade—those mouths include mayor Rahm Emanuel, house speaker Mike Madigan, governor Pat Quinn, and alderman and finance chair Ed Burke, big eaters all.

Just since 2010, CME's grocery bill for these four has set it back $420,000: the exchange group has given $200,000 to Emanuel, $100,000 to Madigan, $90,000 to Quinn, and $30,000 to Burke.

CME has bowed to pressure about its finances before. It rejected $15 million in Tax Increment Financing money from the city of Chicago, saying instead that: "Formally declining these funds will allow you to put them to use in incenting economic development in the city of Chicago."

Could this recent pressure get the CME to return the tax breaks as it did the TIF money? Don't bet on it.

The TIF funds are paltry compared to the ongoing tax breaks the CME will enjoy.

Will it make big corporations think twice about taking public funding? The protesters hope so.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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