As the 2020 campaign heats up, public companies face much greater risk from political spending. The 2018 elections provided a foretaste of what companies can expect when contributions associate them with candidates who make questionable remarks or take positions that conflict with companies’ core values and positions.
Walmart and Aetna demanded the return of their PAC contributions to Mississippi Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith after it was disclosed she had joked about wanting a front-row seat if a public lynching were held. Protestors staged “die-ins” at Publix Super Markets following the Parkland, Florida school shooting massacre a year ago, protesting the company’s financial support for Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam (R); he called himself a “proud NRA sellout” in the campaign.
The Center for Political Accountability (CPA) warned companies of the heightened challenges in its “Collision Course” report released in June 2018. It was the first examination of the risks companies face from contradictory political spending and an energized social media. It also laid out steps that companies should take to manage these risks.
Today’s hyperpolarized environment makes it imperative for companies to adopt political spending disclosure and accountability. The 2018 CPA-Zicklin Index, our annual benchmarking of such policies by the S&P 500, found that companies recognize this need. Not only have close to 300 companies—three-fifths of the S&P 500—adopted some form of political disclosure, but:
57 companies in the S&P 500 have the best policies, receiving the highest scores for political disclosure and accountability of 90 percent or above. That’s up from 50 companies last year, 41 in 2016 and 28 in 2015. These Trendsetters spanned all sectors of the economy.
176 companies—one-third of the S&P 500—placed some level of restriction on their election-related spending. That compares with 158 last year and 125 in 2015.
There was an uninterrupted upward trend in the number of companies with some form of board oversight of corporate political spending. For review of direct political contributions and expenditures, this number increased to 221 companies in 2018, from 209 in 2017 and 143 in 2015.
This proxy season, CPA is building on this momentum with a greatly expanded effort. New shareholder partners have joined to file the Center’s model resolution at 57 companies filed to date. It is double the number filed last year.
The proxy season had a strong opening when CPA partner Investor Voice reached a landmark agreement with General Electric. The company will significantly expand transparency of its election-related spending by closing “dark money” holes. It agreed to disclose contributions to secretive “social welfare” organizations and to lower the threshold that triggers reporting of its dues and other payments used by trade associations for election-related and lobbying spending.
Learn what your company spends
CPA’s political spending database, TrackYourCompany.org, has been updated through 2017. It includes voluntary disclosure reports posted by S&P 500 companies by ticker, type of recipient, industry, state, year, and political party and is used to track the full scope of company political spending.