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 ‘Political spending’
Political spending and climate change, key topics during the 2014 proxy season, are expected to feature heavily again in 2015 shareholder proposals. This post reviews the content of the social and environmental proposals voted on most frequently by shareholders of Russell 3000 companies during the 2014 season, including the topics that received the highest average shareholder support. The complete publication provides examples of proposal text and sponsor supporting statements, as well as board responses and related corporate disclosure.
Nearly 40 percent of all shareholder proposals submitted at Russell 3000 companies that held meetings during the first half of 2014 were related to social and environmental policy issues, up from 29.2 percent in 2010, as documented in Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014). Social and environmental policy proposals now represent the second-largest category of the subjects in terms of both the number submitted and the number voted, narrowly behind corporate governance.
Last week, Securities and Exchange Commissioner Daniel Gallagher took the unusual step of publishing a letter to the editor of the New York Times expressing his opposition to the SEC even considering companies’ disclosure of political spending. In his letter, the Commissioner vows “to fight to keep” the subject off the SEC’s agenda. As explained below, however, his letter fails to provide a substantive basis for his vehement opposition to transparency in corporate spending on politics.
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.
Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014), a report recently released by The Conference Board in collaboration with FactSet, reviews the last five years of shareholder activism and proxy voting at Russell 3000 and S&P 500 companies.
Data analyzed in the report includes:
…continue reading: The Recent Evolution of Shareholder Activism
Anyone paying the slightest amount of attention recognizes that the U.S. political system is performing poorly. Washington is gripped by extreme partisanship, which prevents Congress from conducting even routine business, and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches is near historic lows. But as I argue in my new book, Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust, the problem with the nation’s politics is even deeper than the daily headlines suggest. There is limited transparency surrounding money and politics, and many institutions that in the past could counterbalance the power of the wealthy and other special interests have grown weak. It is difficult for financially strapped news organizations to provide quality coverage of government, and political parties have become heavily dependent on a relatively small number of wealthy and well-connected people for campaign contributions.
The Million-Comment-Letter Petition: The Rulemaking Petition on Disclosure of Political Spending Attracts More than 1,000,000 SEC Comment Letters
In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law experts that petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. We are delighted to announce that, as reflected in the SEC’s webpage for comments filed on our petition, the SEC has now received more than a million comment letters regarding the petition. To our knowledge, the petition has attracted far more comments than any other SEC rulemaking petition—or, indeed, than any other issue on which the Commission has accepted public comment—in the history of the SEC.
Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court Review and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, and Nicholas Walter recently issued an essay with that is forthcoming in Cornell Law Review. The essay, titled Conservative Collision Course?: the Tension Between Conservative Corporate Law Theory and Citizens United, is available here.
The abstract of Chief Justice Strine’s and Walter’s essay summarizes it briefly as follows:
Despite the fact that corporations and interest groups spent about $30 billion lobbying policy makers over the last decade (Center for Responsive Politics, 2012), there is a lack of robust empirical evidence on whether firms’ lobbying expenditures create value for their shareholders. Moreover, while the public perception of the lobbying process is that it involves unethical behavior that may bias rather than inform politicians, this is difficult to show since unethical practices are not typically observable. In our recent ECGI working paper, The Corporate Value of (Corrupt) Lobbying, we identify events that exogenously affect the ability of firms to lobby, and find that firms that lobby more experience a significant decrease in market value around these events. Investigating the channels by which lobbying may add value, we find evidence suggesting that the value partly arises from potentially unethical arrangements between firms and politicians.
Over the past several years, judicial decisions involving Citizens United, McCutcheon and SpeechNow.org have lifted caps on total political contributions, and also expanded the number of avenues through and amounts which companies can lawfully contribute to political campaigns. Corporate donations can still be made to recipients like political action committees and third-party organizations (such as trade associations). Now, however, companies can also contribute directly to campaigns and to organizations that support candidates and political causes, including Section 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations.