fb tracking

Do shareholders support corporate political spending disclosure?

In a word: Yes.

For the past four years since the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, shareholders have been beating the drum for increased disclosure by companies on political spending. Nearly 1 million people have supported a rulemaking petition at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calling for disclosure of corporate political spending. And active shareholders have filed hundreds of proposals with companies asking for the same disclosure.

Still, Corporate America insists that shareholder support for disclosure is scant. According to Wall Street, and its mouthpiece the Wall Street Journal, the thousands of comments at the SEC and the hundreds of shareholder proposals supporting disclosure are just fantasy.

Well here are some inconvenient facts for Wall Street:

  • We’ve been tracking political activity related shareholder proposals since 2010. In 2010 shareholders filed 66 such proposals. In 2014 they filed more than double that at 135.
  • From 2010 to 2014, there have been 274 shareholder proposals filed which call for increased disclosure of company political spending or lobbying expenditures. Of the proposals that were voted on during that time, the average vote in favor was 28.1 percent. During that same time 134 proposals were withdrawn because the companies reached an agreement with the filer to provide more information about the political activities.
  • Notable votes from 2014 include two votes of more than 50 percent at Lorillard and Valero Energy in support of lobbying disclosure, and votes between 40 and 50 percent at BB&T Emerson Electric, Duke Energy, Cabot Oil & Gas and TECO Energy in support of political spending disclosure.
  • So far in 2014 average support for proposals calling on companies to review and report on political spending is at 29.5 percent.

Another inconvenient fact worth noting is that many votes are lower than they would otherwise be because managers and executives own many, many shares and, of course, vote “no” on disclosure. After all, why would expose your own political slush fund?

Shareholder support for disclosure of political activity remains robust, and if anything the call for accountability is getting louder. Contrary to what Corporate America would have us believe, their shareholders aren’t shying away from this fight — they’re rightfully demanding accountability.

Data on proposals provided by the Sustainable Investments Institute, which tracks and analyzes shareholder proposals for large institutional investors.

Kelly Ngo is the online advocacy organizer for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.