Federal Politics

Published — September 26, 2017 Updated — September 27, 2017 at 12:11 pm ET

Your favorite companies may be political black boxes

Toy company Mattel marketed the "Barbie: I Can Be ... President" doll, seen here on April 5, 2012, in New York City. But a new political transparency study from the Center for Political Accountability and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School indicates Mattel is one of the least politically transparent companies listed in the S&P 500. Diane Bondareff/AP

But new study shows some name brands are quite transparent

Introduction

You book a hotel on Expedia.com.

You buy a Garmin to navigate highways.

Finally, you stream Netflix movies to keep the kids occupied on the trip.

Just know you’re patronizing companies that volunteer virtually nothing about their political practices and spending, according to a new study on corporate political disclosure and accountability by the nonpartisan Center for Political Accountability and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Other familiar names such as travel website TripAdvisor, satellite service provider Dish Network Corp. and energy drink-maker Monster Beverage Corp. rank among 58 companies within the S&P 500 that earned a score of zero on the study’s 70-point scale.

Scores are calculated based on 24 indicators that range from whether a company publicly discloses corporate contributions to political committees and organizations — including politically active nonprofit organizations that don’t themselves disclose their donors — to whether it posts a detailed report of its corporate political spending on its website. The study also awards points to companies that have established clear political spending and disclosure policies.

Other notable companies receiving low political transparency scores include toymaker Mattel Inc., discount stores Dollar General Corp. and Dollar Tree Inc., Michael Kors Holdings Ltd., Tyson Foods Inc.

Also among the basement dwellers: consumer credit reporting agency Equifax, which is facing congressional hearings after a massive breach of its data systems that compromised the security of about 143 million Americans’ personal information.

When asked about Tyson Food’s score of three points out of a possible 70, Caroline Ahn, a Tyson Foods spokeswoman, said the company complies with federal disclosure requirements.

“We report to the U.S. House and Senate any corporate expenditures paid to trade associations that are involved with advocacy efforts,” she said in an emailed statement.

But other companies, such as Microsoft Corp., eBay Inc., HP Inc. and PG&E Corp., fared much better with scores of at least 65 points out of a possible 70.

The number of these “trendsetter” companies, those that scored 63 points or more, increased by nine companies from the 41 companies that had the distinction in the 2016 report.

This year was also the first time in the Center for Public Accountability/Zicklin study’s seven-year history that a company received a perfect score. This distinction goes to Becton, Dickinson & Co., a global medical technology company.

The average score for all 499 companies in the study was about 30 points on its zero-to-70 scale. That’s a slight uptick from 2016.

Several companies significantly improved their scores from 2016 to 2017. Among them are chemical company LyondellBasell Industries NV, Host Hotels & Resorts, CenterPoint Energy Inc. and Ralph Lauren Corp. each boosted their score by dozens of points by voluntarily disclosing more spending or clarifying political spending practices.

Until recently, Host Hotels and Resorts didn’t have a staffer to focus on disclosure and corporate political spending, said Kevin Gallagher, the company’s vice president and assistant general counsel. Now the company does.

“We were just really happy to improve our disclosure, and I think we can do even better next year,” Gallagher said.

Food spice outfit McCormick & Company Inc., pharmacy chain Walgreen Boots Alliance Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. are well-known companies that also scored well, according to the study.

Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, said corporate disclosure has held even and he thinks it will continue to grow at a steady pace even in the shadow of a president who hasn’t released his tax returns.

“Political disclosure and contributions are now becoming a standard that companies are expected to follow,” he said. “Those companies that don’t disclose are going to be viewed as outliers.”

This year’s Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin study showed a slight dip — from 305 last year to 295 this year — in the number of companies that disclosed some or all their election-related spending, or banned such spending altogether. Freed said the year-to-year change in which companies are listed within the S&P 500 may have caused this decrease.

But the Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin study has also revealed a growing trend toward more managerial and board oversight of political spending and more disclosure or prohibition of political spending, said Freed, noting the study has measured the full S&P 500 for the past three years.

For instance, the numbers of senior managers overseeing political spending grew from 237 in 2015 to 292 this year.

The number of companies banning contributions to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit organizations is now at 177, versus 83 in 2015.

The study also notes that more companies are voluntarily disclosing their election spending without being told to do so.

The Center for Competitive Politics is a longtime critic of the Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin transparency study. While Center for Competitive Politics senior policy analyst Luke Wachob hasn’t yet seen the newest study’s findings, he faulted past studies for “misrepresenting the issue of corporate disclosure and for using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy for the thousands of different entities that comprise ‘corporate America.’”

Wachob said his organization hopes the study’s “defects” have been addressed in its latest iteration.

Kelli Mleczko, a spokeswoman for Sempra Energy, said public policy engagement is important for all companies — but so is transparency. Sempra Energy earned a score of 68 points out of 70.

“While the CPA-Zicklin Index can be used as a benchmark for areas to focus on in terms of accountability, our principle motive is that we believe maintaining transparency and accountability is core to being a responsible company,” she said.

This article was co-published by Salon and Philly.com

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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT