Merck, Microsoft Among Corporations Disclosing Political Spending

As secret political contributions surges, more large American companies are voluntarily strengthening their political disclosure and accountability policies and practices, according to a study. 

In the first full election cycle since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the spigots to unlimited corporate political spending, almost 60% of the top companies in the S&P 500 now disclose political spending information, according to the CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Accountability and Disclosure.

The index is maintained by the Center for Political Accountability in conjunction with the Carol and Lawrence Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

"Unfortunately, secret money has become a major currency of this election," says Bruce Freed, Center for Political Accountability president. "It’s little known, however, that at the same time, more leading American corporations are saying ‘no’ when they face pressure to engage in secret political spending.  

Leading companies that refuse to engage in hidden spending, he says, are helping to establish political disclosure as an accepted corporate practice. 

This year’s top corporate leaders for disclosure and accountability are: Merck, which scored 97 out of 100; Microsoft (94); Aflac (93); Gilead (92); and Exelon and Time Warner (tied at 88).

Companies that improved the most from last year are: Costco (85, up from 3 last year); The Walt Disney Company (67, up from 12); and Capital One Financial (63, up from 20).

75 out of 88 large companies studied for two consecutive years improved their scores. 

Disclose Act Failed

The Disclose Act (S. 3369), sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would have required companies and unions to file a disclosure report for donations at or above $10,000.

This summer, the legislation failed because it was filibustered by Republicans, which requires 60 votes to pass. Republicans voted unanimously against the bill, which ended in a 51-44 vote. Without the filibuster the bill would have passed with a simple majority.

In a rare move, Senate Democrats held a debate lasting until after midnight to protest Senate Republicans’ opposition to the legislation.

More on the Index

To build the index, researchers analyzed publicly available information on company websites – the top 200 companies in the S&P 500 Index. 

They also found:

  • Almost 60% of companies disclose at least some information about their direct political spending, including  11% who say their policy is not to engage in such political spending.
  • 40% of companies disclose payments to trade associations, which are often a conduit for secret political spending, including 5% that request that trade associations not use their payments for political purposes.

There is great room for improvement, especially by smaller companies. Those companies new to the 2012 Index were smaller and were less likely than larger companies to provide full disclosure of political spending, and board oversight. 

Because the Index examines policies and practices published on corporate websites, the report doesn’t answer whether companies are hiding their spending or not engaging in political spending at all.

The report is entitled "The 2012 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Accountability and Disclosure: How Leading Companies Navigate Political Spending in the Wake of Citizens United."  

Here’s the CPA-Zicklin Index report:   

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