Who’s Minding the Mint-Maker
by Joseph Pronechen | Source:
A decade and a half ago Brother Joe Fisher, provincial treasurer of the Cincinnati Province of
Missionaries of the Precious Blood, was interviewing fund managers from a local bank.
“Our investment guidelines and policies were pretty simple,” he recalls. “We wanted to avoid anything that went against the sacredness of human life. The bankers said, ‘We can’t do that.’”
A member of their team happened to know of Thomas Strobhar and his fairly new Pro Vita Advisors. The name alone seemed to strike the right chord. The match between the province and the investment specialist remains strong to this day.
“We want to make sure the money we have for investments doesn’t work against that commitment,” explains Brother Fisher. “Pro Vita provides a screen for us and helps us stay on track.”
Founding the non-profit Pro Vita Advisors in 1989 was a natural for Strobhar. He was in the investment business — a large national magazine named him “a financial whiz” — and witnessed his faith regularly at a nearby facility that specialized in partialbirth abortions. He desired to incorporate his professional background with pro-life work. Pro Vita Advisors was born of that desire.
Based in Dayton, Ohio, Pro Vita is primarily a marketresearch organization that gives morally responsible investment guidelines to promote the culture of life. For one, it excludes companies donating to Planned Parenthood or others involved in abortion.
To put it succinctly: Pro Vita names names.
“There are big names like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer that make some very good products,” Strobhar points out, “but unfortunately some of their products take lives.”
He says while Johnson & Johnson “cultivates an image friendly to babies,” the corporate giant “persists in giving money to Planned Parenthood year after year. They also make contraceptive products that take life at early stages.” Pro Vita Advisors sees a difference between using a company’s product and buying its stocks. “Investing is a little different story,” says Strobhar.
“People should be more concerned about where their funds are invested and avoid investing in companies that take human life for profit.”
With many threats to the culture of life coming from products and services sold by the world’s largest corporations, Pro Vita has expanded its screening list. With a primary focus on pro-life issues, they also research media and pornography companies they believe Catholic investors should avoid.
Strobhar names more names: major hotel chains like Choice, Marriott and Hilton sell pornography. Pro Vita also keeps tabs on companies involved in in-vitro fertilization and embryonic stemcell research — like General Electric, Johnson & Johnson and Corning, where it’s a smaller area for most major companies, he says.
Pro Vita goes where others don’t tread, often allied with Life Decisions International (fightPP.org) where Strobhar is the chairman.
“What distinguishes Pro Vita is we’ve been very active in standing up at corporation meetings and reminding people of moral values, especially on pornography, abortion and domestic-partner
benefits,” he explains.
“I think I’m responsible for the only shareholder resolution to ask a company (Bristol-Myers Squibb) to divest itself of its contraceptive business.”
As far as he knows, he’s also author of the only pro-life shareholder resolutions opposing contributions to Planned Parenthood, fetal tissue research and abortifacient drugs to appear on corporate ballots from 1991 through 2007. He presents them at corporations’ annual shareholder events and upsets the “feel-good” annual meeting.
“They’re taking the fruit of their employees’ labor and money that belongs to all the shareholders,” says Strobhar, “and giving it to the nation’s largest abortion group.”
He went to Ford Motor Co. to tell Bill Ford and his board that “they were cutting retirement benefits and adding domestic partner benefits, thus paying for sexual activities condemned by Jews, Christians and Muslims for thousands of years.”
He told the same to Bill Gates — the most successful businessman in the world — last November at a Microsoft meeting. At Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett — the second most successful businessmen in the world — had to listen while Strobhar called attention to Buffett’s eugenic philosophy and anti-life
How does Stobhar do it? For starters, he holds a minimum of company stock that allows a stockholder to stand up and put forth a shareholder resolution. “It’s on my time and my dime,” he says.
He takes no money from Pro Vita but has a long-time separate investment business. He travels economically, for example, to Seattle for Microsoft’s annual meeting “to talk to the world’s wealthiest man for five minutes and tell him how he’s violating God’s law. He has to listen. And normally the world’s wealthiest man isn’t forced to listen to things he doesn’t want to hear.”
His efforts have had an effect on some large corporations including AT&T, American Express and General Mills. Strobhar says that, for years, the latter ignored thousands of letters from customers protesting donations to Planned Parenthood.
He put forth a shareholder resolution that impacted General Mills and, within one month, they stopped that donation. Pro Vita took them off their “exclude” list.
Similarly, he was the first to get a letter from AT&T stating they would no longer give money to Planned Parenthood. Confronting a pharmaceutical company on contraceptives, he took the wording for the resolution almost word-for-word from a Catholic women’s religious order’s resolution on smoking.
“Wherever they used the word tobacco,” he says, “I used the word contraceptives.” Which brings up an area that disturbs him and Pro Vita. “Unfortunately,” he says after years of efforts, “no Catholic religious group has even done a pro-life shareholder resolution.”
He finds them focusing on tobacco or social issues, sometimes in countries thousands of miles away.
When he tried to enlist the aid of one woman on a pro-life resolution, she told him she didn’t think it
was “ecumenical” to address the abortion issue.
On the positive side, a number of Catholic religious orders and dioceses look to Pro Vita for portfolio advice because its investment guidelines mesh with those of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Catholic Community Foundation of St. Paul and Minneapolis has relied on Pro Vita advice since the mid-1990s. Knowing institutions hardly ever pre-screen buys when their large portfolio is handled by several different managers, chief investment officer James Mullin says the Catholic Community Foundation wanted their managers to exclude companies the charitable foundation didn’t want to be part of.
“We want to get companies we knew we didn’t want to own into their hands,” he says. Finding it a constant question where to draw the investment line, he says, “Pro Vita Advisors help in that struggle.”
While most regular subscribers to Pro Vita are religious orders, dioceses or investment firms servicing these people, individuals from modest to millionaire, and small investors, also seek help.
Pro Vita helps all answer the eternal investment question: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”
Natinal Catholic Register writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
National Catholic Register, january 14-20, 2007