Here's a way to break all those frumpy cocktail conversation taboos against topics like money or politics: bring up The Blue Fund Group. Last week, the fund filed a registration statement with the SEC that would make it the first mutual fund to explicitly support Democrats.
The Blue Fund intends to invest in S&P 500 companies which both "give blue" and "act blue," thereby comprising its investment manager's proprietary Blue Index. Giving blue is defined to mean only those companies which, together with their top three executives, have given the majority of their political contributions to Democrats or Democratic political action committees over the current and preceding four election cycles. Acting blue connotes business practices consistent with progressive values, covering the typical litany of SRI causes like environmental sustainability, diversity, sound corporate governance, and avoidance of products such as tobacco and firearms.
Currently, 75 companies comprise the Blue Index. Any idea who makes the list? No, not Halliburton
I'm OK with investing in SRI funds, but I'm a bit dubious about The Blue Group. For starters, the fund's expenses can total a hefty 1.75% for what essentially amounts to investing in a large-cap equity fund. Second, the fund's investment manager doesn't bring a significant investment management track record. Third, there's no research evidencing expected returns from a "Democratic" portfolio.
In addition, companies and executives often play both sides of the aisle in making political contributions. An interesting article in The Wall Street Journal yesterday cites a shift in contributions to Democrats from typical Republican boosters such as American International Group
Although The Blue Fund claims to be the first politically focused fund, a peer from across the aisle already exists. While the Free Enterprise Action Fund does not label itself "Republican" or use contribution criteria, it bills itself as the first mutual fund "dedicated to providing both financial and pro-free enterprise ideological returns to investors." Unlike The Blue Fund, this fund actually employs a more activist approach to advancing its agenda, using some of the same tools often utilized by SRI activists. The fund's advocacy efforts include exerting pressure on companies through its institutional shareholder status, and leading anti-activist campaigns. Recently, for example, the fund garnered attention for calling on the SEC to investigate allegedly false and misleading statements by the management of Goldman Sachs
If acting blue appeals to you, but you also want to generate some tangible green, perhaps you'd be better off investing in more straightforward SRI funds while making your own political contributions. The Blue Group might prove to be a better marketing technique than investment strategy.
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Fool contributor S.J. Caplan, a former vice president and assistant general counsel of Goldman Sachs, and former vice president and derivative finance specialist at Lehman Brothers, owns shares of Goldman Sachs. Her daughter would like you to know that her favorite color is red.