The Conference Board formed a committee of representatives from Fortune 500 companies and “corporate citizenship executives” to research issues related to disclosure and accountability of corporate political spending and develop a report by fall that will provide corporations with a toolkit of resources to strengthen their governance practices in this area.
The current member companies of the Committee on Corporate Political Spending include Campbell Soup Company, Exelon Corporation, Merck & Co., Inc., Microsoft Corporation, and Pfizer Inc. The Committee is co-chaired by Dan Bross, Senior Director, Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft Corporation and Charles Grezlak, Vice President of State Government Affairs, Merck & Co., Inc. Outside experts in the field of corporate governance, corporate political spending, and election law will serve as advisory members.
The need for a model framework for disclosure and accountability of corporate political spending has increased since January 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, limited restrictions on corporate-funded political spending in federal elections. The Court’s decision allowed companies to make independent expenditures, directly or through third parties, in support of or in opposition to candidates.
In its wake, legislators at the federal and state level have proposed new laws requiring disclosure and, in some cases, shareholder approval of a company’s political spending. Since the 2004 proxy season, some investors have filed shareholder resolutions to the same effect. As of May 2011, 85 large public companies, including 51 in the S&P 100, have voluntarily adopted disclosure of political spending with corporate funds. Last November, The Conference Board released the first-ever Handbook on Corporate Political Activity to provide companies with guidance on managing and overseeing their political spending with corporate funds.
While I certainly welcome this development, I wonder just hope they consult with a wide variety of advisers and come up with something that will limit corporate influence… involving shareowners in such decisions may be a start but I don’t see it as an answer.