By David Roeder and Leeann Shelton
Protesters disrupted a shareholders meeting of CME Group Inc. on Wednesday, loudly arguing that the exchange operator got an unjustified tax break from the state and should return the money to support government programs for the poor.
Company leaders contended the tax reduction was not a special interest break but a correction of a wrong that had CME taxed unlike any other company in Illinois.
But the response did not get far with about 50 protesters who qualified as shareholders to attend the annual meeting at the corporate headquarters, 20 S. Wacker. Several used a question-and-answer session to launch into speeches about the company acting irresponsibly.
As they were cut off for being out of order, the protesters began chanting “Give the money back” and “Pay more taxes.” Security staff escorted them from the meeting without incident, and the group drew some heckling from other shareholders.
Terrence Duffy, CME Group executive chairman, tried to head off some of the protests when he opened the meeting with a statement about taxes. “We are a global company, and we asked to be taxed like every other major company based in Illinois, many of which are much larger than CME Group,” Duffy said. “The Illinois Legislature recognized and corrected the unfair treatment by giving us an apportionment that is equitable and puts us closer to other Illinois companies.”
Last December, the Legislature changed the tax code so CME would have to pay only for business executed in Illinois. The owner of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago and New York mercantile exchanges had been taxed on its trading volume from around the world.
The change will save the company about $85 million a year, roughly its annual bill to the state.
Protesters said the reduction deprived the state of revenue when social programs were being cut. “You should resign and all the board members should resign because you disgraced the company,” a dissident shareholder said.
In a session with reporters after the meeting, Duffy was adamant. “CME was being taxed on business that wasn’t being conducted in Illinois,” he said. “So if John Deere sells a tractor over the river in St. Louis, they don’t pay Illinois taxes,” while a CME trade from Hong Kong got taxed.
Duffy said protesters should address inequities in the state tax system under which some companies avoid obligations altogether, but he said he would not become active on that issue. “I’m not paid to do that. . . . I’m not running for public office so I’m not going to address that. I think that’s for politicians to address,” Duffy said.
Protesters left the meeting and joined a group that marched outside on Wacker. Chants filtered through to the shareholder meeting inside as about 100 people marched, including members of Stand Up Chicago.
The marchers left before the CME meeting ended and returned to the Thompson Center, where they joined about 500 activists. It was a more generalized demonstration, and comparatively festive, with trombones, clarinets and drums being played. The crowd included members of Service Employees International Union Local 1, Action Now, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Moveon.org.
A banner across a stage said: “People’s shareholder meeting,” and signs said “We can’t survive on $8.25,” referring to the minimum wage in Illinois.
Victor Williams, 66, of the Edgewater neighborhood, was there with a senior citizens group. “All they [CME Group] have to do is take that tax break and turn it back into these programs we’re closing,” he said, referring to senior programs and mental health centers.
Earlier Wednesday, Chicago Police said they arrested 15 protesters who were blocking traffic during a demonstration in the city’s financial district. Their demonstration was near the Chicago Board of Trade building, at La Salle and Jackson.