Protesters disrupt Wells Fargo shareholder meeting
SAN FRANCISCO — Wells Fargo & Co. Chief Executive John Stumpf got to keep his pay, but little else went the banker’s way during an acrimonious annual shareholder meeting.
Demonstrators swarmed the Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco’s financial district to protest the bank’s lending and foreclosure policies. Some shareholders couldn’t get into the meeting as the crowd, which police estimated exceeded 1,000 people, shut down nearby streets.
Inside the meeting, Stumpf was disrupted by protesters who made it into the auditorium: “The time for talk is over,” said Richard Smith, an Episcopal priest in the low-income Mission District who urged Wells Fargo executives to show compassion for struggling borrowers.
Despite the tumult, shareholders voted to embrace Stumpf’s stewardship. The bank said 96% of investors casting nonbinding “say on pay” votes supported the CEO’s $19.8-million compensation package. He’s earned about $60 million over the last three years.
That’s in sharp contrast to Citigroup Inc. shareholders’ vote last week against CEO Vikram Pandit’s $14.9-million pay package for 2011. The difference between Citi and Wells Fargo might reflect the banks’ comparative performance during and after the financial crisis.
Citi required two government bailouts to survive, and its stock still languishes at less than 10% of its pre-crisis high. Wells weathered the crisis in far better shape and has recovered more than 90% of its pre-crisis share price, with its profits now approaching record levels.
Demonstrators, many from the Occupy Wall Street movement, say Wells Fargo’s success has come at its customers’ expense. They demanded that Wells Fargo halt foreclosures, divest investments in prison-management companies, end high-interest payday lending and forgive debts of struggling borrowers with underwater mortgages.
Eight demonstrators were cited for trespassing after causing disruptions at the meeting or in the streets outside, San Francisco police said. One long-haired, bearded man who identified himself as Stardust was led to a sheriff’s van with his hands bound behind him, protesting: “I have a legal proxy to enter and they refused me.”
The protesters operated under the “99% Power” banner, referring to those not among America’s highest income earners. They included labor groups, community activists and a coalition of 30 San Francisco religious leaders who led a prayer session with readings from the Bible and Koran.
“Do not profit by the blood of your fellows,” said a Torah quotation read by Camille Shira Angel, rabbi of a Reform synagogue.
Protesters also pushed a mock stagecoach reading “Hells Fargo” through the streets and shouted through a loudspeaker next to a giant, cigar-smoking inflatable rat: “The 99% have arrived at the building. The 1% are not getting in.”
But in the end the demonstrators complained they couldn’t get into the meeting.
Marguerite Young, a service workers union organizer, said Wells Fargo had allowed entry by only 20 or 30 of more than 200 protesters who had bought shares of the bank’s stock. Wells had packed the ballroom with workers from its offices early in the day, she said.
“The rest of the room — about 250 people — are their own employees, members of the board and officers,” she said.
Wells spokesman Ancel Martinez said access had been restricted as a matter of security. “San Francisco P.D. made the call that we needed to shut it down,” he said.
Martinez said it was the first time in memory that there had been no questions at an annual meeting. It lasted 45 minutes, compared with 21/2 hours last year.