Federal Politics

Published — October 8, 2015

Corporations improve reporting of political activity — with exceptions

Group ranks top 500 companies on transparency of government influence work

Introduction

Each episode of the political drama “House of Cards” drips with secretive shenanigans and shady government dealings.

It’s apropos, then, that Netflix, the hit show’s distributor, is itself a black box, according to a new study on corporate political transparency by the nonpartisan Center for Political Accountability and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Netflix joins other household names including clothier Ralph Lauren Corp., financial firm Charles Schwab Corp., Monster Beverage Corp., Urban Outfitters Inc. and Warren Buffett holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in scoring a goose egg on the annual study’s 70-point scale measuring companies’ political disclosure practices and published accountability policies.

The study, which for the first time ranked all companies listed on the S&P 500 stock index, also gives low marks to the likes of retailer Nordstrom Inc., travel booker Expedia Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Whole Foods Market Inc. and toy maker Mattel Inc., creator of “Barbie.”

But on balance, most of the nation’s largest corporations are showing “sustained, concrete progress” toward volunteering more information about how they interact with governments, politicians and campaigns, the study asserts.

Tech giant Microsoft Corp., power generator Exelon Corp., computer chip maker Intel Corp. and wireless technology outfit Qualcomm all ranked within the disclosure index’s top 20 companies.

Shipper United Parcel Service Inc., confectioner The Hershey Co., bank JPMorgan Chase & Co., tobacco conglomerate Altria Group Inc. and eBay Inc. also ranked highly.

In between the extremes? The Walt Disney Co. (44 points), Facebook Inc. (37), Exxon Mobil Corp. (35), Amazon.com Inc. (25) and Google (23), posted mediocre scores. Among media giants, News Corp. (34) and CBS Corp. (8), underwhelmed.

The Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin index’s 24 categories award points to companies that, for example, voluntarily disclose contributions to certain nonprofit groups, publish policies that govern political expenditures from its corporate treasury and reveal money spent to influence state-level ballot initiatives.

Such disclosures generally exceed what’s required of corporations by law, such as regularly filing disclosure reports about a political action committee or congressional lobbying activity.

But federal law does not compel companies to publicly reveal whether they’re pumping cash into a “social welfare” nonprofit organization that, in turn, advocates for the election of, say, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton as the nation’s next president.

Nor does it mandate companies publicize whether they give money to politically active trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which routinely endorses and promotes a slate of congressional candidates.

Officials at several companies that do reveal much more about their politicking than is legally required generally say it’s good business to do so.

CSX’s score of 68 out of 70 — tied for 1st place — reflects the train and transportation company’s “commitment to transparent reporting, corporate social responsibility and accountability to its shareholders,” spokeswoman Melanie Cost said.

A Center for Public Integrity investigation last year showed that CSX is among dozens of the nation’s large corporations that voluntarily discloses payments made to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade or political groups.

Becton, Dickinson and Co., a medical supplies firm, and Noble Energy Inc., also earned 68 points.

Calling the Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin transparency index “highly credible,” Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord expressed pride in the agribusiness company’s ranking increasing from within the top fifth of all companies in 2014 to within top 10 companies overall — it received 66 points.

Lee Anderson, spokesman for food company General Mills, which scored a 65, made no apologies for his company involving itself in public policy debates.

“But at the same time, we strive to be transparent. It’s the right thing to do,” Anderson said.

An official at coffee company Keurig Green Mountain Inc., which scored 8 out of 70 possible points, said the company “will continue to consider” how it discloses its political activity.

“Although we note there is no current legal obligation to make any such disclosure, we consistently review our disclosures and policies,” spokeswoman Suzanne DuLong said.

Representatives for Netflix, along with those at several other companies that posted low scores, did not return requests for comment.

The Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin index has itself a prominent detractor in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest trade group.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials, who have long criticized the index as unfair to business, argue the push for corporate disclosure isn’t coming from typical corporate investors in the name of good corporate governance.

“Rather, disclosure is a tool employed by activist investors — in coordination with CPA and other ideologically aligned parties — to generate information about a company’s lobbying and political activities that can then be used by those same activist investors to harass and pressure the company into disengaging from political debates,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said. “We don’t think this is good for businesses or, ultimately, the millions of investors who do not share the activists’ extreme and narrowly focused political agenda.”

Nonsense, said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability.

“There is strong momentum for corporate disclosure because more and more corporations see it as good policy,” Freed said. “Companies ask us all the time, ‘How can we improve our score?’ Together, they keep getting more transparent every year we do this.”

This story was co-published with Al Jazeera America.

Read more in Federal Politics

Share this article

Join the conversation

Show Comments

11
Leave a Reply

avatar
9 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Mark Sullivan
Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
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.

jan v
Guest
jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
Guest
thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Martin Shellabarger
Guest

J. Stevenson, what are you drinking? Trump has more lobbyists in his administration than probably any other president. Trump is totally “for sale”, and the corporations know it. Grow a brain!

Anonymous
Guest
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
Guest
Mark Sullivan

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

barney
Guest

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

SOUTH JERSEY
Guest
SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
South Jersey

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

SOUTH JERSEY
Guest
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

David
Guest
David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.