Despite recent setbacks, efforts by activist groups to pressure companies to disclose details of their political activities are not going away. As these groups become increasingly sophisticated, 2015 looks to be their most active year to date. In fact, for the first time ever, the Center for Political Accountability plans to issue a report this year ranking the political spending disclosure practices of all 500 companies in the S&P 500 Index. This post highlights recent developments regarding corporate political spending disclosure efforts, looks ahead to what public companies can expect in the near future, and provides strategies and tips for those grappling with disclosure issues.
Posts Tagged ‘CPA’
Dozens of leading American corporations have embraced political transparency without the prodding of shareholder proposals. This is a new and important finding in the fourth annual CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability released by the Center for Political Accountability on September 24.
At the same time, the Index found that companies that have already adopted disclosure and accountability continue to strengthen their policies, making them more robust and comprehensive. All this is happening in the face of intense opposition by several of the leading business trade associations.
Mutual funds’ support for corporate political disclosure reached a new high in 2013, according to a ten-year analysis by the Center for Political Accountability. Forty large US mutual fund families voted in favor of corporate political spending disclosure an unprecedented 39% of the time, on average.
CPA’s review of mutual fund votes looks at how 40 of the largest U.S. fund families voted on 276 shareholder requests for disclosure of corporate political contributions at U.S. companies over proxy seasons from 2004 to 2013 (covering shareholder meetings from 1 July 2003 to 30 June 2013). Together, these fund families manage around $3.3 trillion in U.S. securities, according to Morningstar® fund data, and control a large portion of the shareholder vote in US securities.
Leading US public companies are making political disclosure and accountability a mainstream corporate practice. That’s a key finding of the 2013 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Accountability and Disclosure released on September 25. Now in its third year, the Index benchmarked the top 200 companies of the S&P 500 on their policies and practices for disclosing, decision-making and managing the risks associated with their political spending. (The actual total was 195 after discounting mergers and other factors.)
The increase in the average overall Index score of all companies—a 41 percent jump from 38 last year to 51 in 2013—showed strong across the board improvement in company policies. Over three quarters of these companies—about 78 percent—saw their scores rise. Biggest gains came in board oversight, with 66 percent of the companies improving scores in that area, followed by disclosure, with 57 percent improving, and political spending policies, with 42 percent improving.
The Center for Political Accountability released on December 10, 2012 its annual survey of mutual fund support for corporate political disclosure. The analysis, which is available on CPA’s website, reviewed how 40 of the largest mutual fund families voted on shareholder resolutions that asked for disclosure of political spending based on the CPA model.
The review’s key findings include the following:
In the aftermath of the most expensive election cycle in U.S. history, which included record amounts of “Dark Money,” the need for transparency in corporate political spending is even more urgent. Chevron made headlines in October when it gave $2.5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC led by Speaker John Boehner (R – Ohio). While contributions to super PACs are required to be reported to the Federal Election Commission, contributions to their companion organizations, the so-called “social welfare” groups organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the Internal Revenue Service, remain entirely hidden.
Tellingly, the number of companies recognizing the need for more transparency and actually making the voluntary spending disclosure has increased in recent years. That trend was documented in the 2012 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Accountability and Disclosure, which ranked the top 200 companies in the S&P 500 on their policies and practices on political activities.
Companies are once again being engaged on political sending, and preliminary results for this proxy season show strong, if not stronger, support. Coordinated by the Center for Political Accountability (CPA), the shareholder resolution focuses on disclosure of political spending from corporate funds, including payments to trade associations and 501c4 organizations; disclosure of management decision making policies; and board oversight of the spending. Through increased oversight and disclosure, shareholders proponents seek to more effectively manage and lessen the risks associated with corporate political spending especially in the post-Citizens United world. (See CPA’s website for a model resolution.)
Shareholders working with CPA have filed a total of 51 resolutions this year, 13 of which have already resulted in an agreement with the company. The New York State Pension Funds successfully engaged six companies: Safeway, Kroger, CSX Corp., Sempra Energy, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, and Reynolds American. Trillium Asset Management reached agreements with Halliburton, Chubb Corp, and State Street Corp.; individual shareholders affiliated with the Responsible Wealth Coalition successfully withdrew their resolutions with Hershey Co. and Aflac, Inc. after agreements. The Miami Firefighters worked successfully with Southwestern Energy Co., and the Nathan Cummings Foundation reached an agreement with Tenet Healthcare.
Several agreements have followed previous strong votes for political disclosure resolutions. Last year, almost 47 percent of shareholders supported the resolution at Halliburton, almost 49 percent at R.R. Donnelley, and more than 44 percent at State Street Corp.