Hobby Lobby hypocrisy: 401k plan invests in contraception

HobbyLobbyEverydayObamacare litigant secretly profiting from the very immorality it publicly opposes.

The story by Molly Redden in Mother Jones, “Hobby Lobby’s Hypocrisy: The Company’s Retirement Plan Invests in Contraception Manufacturers,” is absolutely worth a few minutes of your time. In short: three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan investments are in funds that invest in pharmaceutical companies that produce contraceptive devices that Hobby Lobby’s owners object to having covered by their insurance plans:

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, have gone to the Supreme Court to fight the Affordable Care Act requirement that requires employers to provide insurance that covers contraception. Redden’s article raises questions about the depth and sincerity of those beliefs. Rick Ungar of Forbes magazine perhaps sums it up best:

But to now discover that these people are seeking to avoid their obligation under the law to provide their employees with a contraceptive benefit at the same time they are allowing their 401(k) to invest in—and profit from—these very products is, in my view, completely unforgivable. . . .

While I may not agree with the legal position Hobby Lobby has taken in their lawsuit, I always stand in admiration of those willing to fight for their constitutional rights when they believe they are being taken.

Hobby Lobby is entitled to no such admiration—only contempt. You simply can’t say that you will give your all in defense of your closely held beliefs when it suits you while seeking to make money in violation of those beliefs. You also cannot pretend you were simply negligent in learning what investments you hold if you are going to hold yourself out as an example of righteousness.

Of course this article appears after the case was argued before the Supreme Court and it may not have any official impact on the deliberations that have yet to take place. But it does make one wonder what questions may be raised in the minds of some justices about the Green’s “sincerely held beliefs.”

13 replies »

  1. Very good points. Do you think this oversight was on purpose? Meaning, that some businesses use 3rd parties or other SME’s (subject matter experts) to manage processes. Could it have been an oversight – and what would your reaction be if they apologized – admitting there was this “conflict” and since has been corrected?

    • While there may have been an oversight, as the one quoted article says, there is no excuse. When you set yourself up as a righteous and moral, you incur an equally rigid responsibility to be righteous and moral. In short, we hold people accountable to their own standards.

      My guess is that HL’s PR group is awake and on full alert in the warroom right now. Having been on a corporate PR team dealing with crisis, I can just imagine some of the conversations. There are probably people on that team who are just now finding out about the holdings and I imagine at least a couple are livid.

      I’d give anything to be there. With popcorn.

    • The investments were obviously an oversight–whether it was intentional with the hope that it would not be noticed or unintentional out of ignorance, someone has some explaining to do. And probably some apologizing. And possibly some firing. If this was truly done without the knowledge of the Greens (pretty implausible), the apologies and firings will be both devastating and public. After all, if they are sincere in their suit, how can they possibly atone for their company’s actions? If a corporation has religious freedom, at the heart of the suit, it will be interesting to see one perform public confession and penance.

      If the investments were intentional based on, well, profit motives, we can expect lots of PR theatrics.

      Sam, pass the popcorn.

  2. Someone on Facebook just pointed out to me that probably a lot of what Hobby Lobby sells is manufactured in China. Well, doesn’t the Chinese government provide abortions and family planning services?

    • The Chinese government FORCES women to have abortions – against their will –
      but hypocritical Hobby Lobby buys a BIG chunk of their products from China.

    • Dan, “provide” is, as I’m sure you intended, an incredible understatement. Even Apple has been caught up in the pregnancy testing as a condition of employment controversy. I’m sure that lower level factories producing cheap craft supplies have draconian contraception, abortion, and sterilization policies aimed at their poorly educated female employees. As China’s economy continues to cool, such policies will probably become more extreme as the government and owners become more desperate to squeeze every bit of productivity out of their workers.

      • I didn’t intend to make either an understatement or an overstatement. I merely wanted to point out that even if these assholes completely divest their company 401(k) of all contraception- and abortion-related pharmaceutical interests, they’ll still be (by their own ridiculous standards) a morally-impure company unless they start using suppliers and manufacturers who don’t provide any of the healthcare coverage to which Hobby Lobby objects. This is a no-win situation for them, and I hope some clever opposition lawyer in these supreme court proceedings seizes upon this point.

  3. I’m torn on this one between the philosophical and logical incongruity of the Supreme Court case and the excellent pay and benefits this company affords their employees.

    $14/hr to start for full time and $9.50/hr for part time is huge considering the dismal pay scale many Americans have been relegated to, and the fact that Hobby Lobby is still making decent 401K contributions is admirable as well.

    I hope the Supreme Court finds against them on this but I really do wish them well as a company.

    • Frank, I’m glad they have that end of their business model right and I certainly don’t want them shut down. My concern has always been with the slippery slope opened by the argument that people get to flout multiple laws because of their personal religious convictions.

  4. He also enacted the credit check in employment. There are no more debtor’s prisons, it called homelessness.

    • Sure wish I could respond to this comment, but I don’t understand the context.

  5. Understood Cat yet while agreeing in principle I don’t see where Hobby Lobby is flouting anything. They are working through the judicial process attempting to secure an exclusion from a very particular part of the ACA.

    I hope they lose the case on exactly the grounds you state, but the overall tone of the public conversation is simplistic slut shaming with no comment being given to “Oh yeah, by the way they’re a great company to work for.”

    And I believe Western Lady is referring to Hobby Lobby requiring credit checks before hiring new cashiers and I do the same thing when hiring money handlers, it’s legal in most states and as long as it’s legal any prudent employer is well advised to do it. If people can’t handle their own money I damn sure don’t want them handling mine.