Misinformation, Undisclosed Political Spending Continue to Undermine Our Democracy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Exxon and Amazon should listen to their shareholders and commit to fully disclosing their political activity, and Facebook should reexamine its policy of not fact-checking political advertisements on its platform, Public Citizen said today. The corporations are holding their annual shareholder meetings today, and shareholder resolutions addressing these issues are pending at all three corporations.
Companies like Exxon, Facebook and Amazon could receive taxpayer bailouts in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and it is important to know whether those funds are going to support workers or will be used to lobby the government for special favors, Public Citizen said. A company’s political activity is relevant to its shareholders because it can present significant reputational risk if not disclosed and managed properly.
Shareholder resolutions are pending at Exxon and Amazon that would require both corporations to publicly disclose their political activity. Both companies have histories of undisclosed political activity and recently have been lobbying heavily for pandemic-related relief.
In 2016, Exxon gave $100,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which spent $824,000 on television ads in favor of the Republican candidate during the 10 days leading up to the 2020 Wisconsin Supreme Court election. Exxon CEO Darren Woods sits on President Donald Trump’s Opening Our Country Council, and the company gave $500,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee.
The oil and gas sector has been lobbying for COVID-19-related financial interventions that would be good for fossil fuels and weaken planned climate regulation. The stimulus package that set up a $500 million corporate bailout fund left significant loopholes for fossil fuel companies, and the Trump administration has said it is considering a bailout of oil corporations.
Lobbyists representing Amazon have been pushing for regulatory changes to benefit its business, such as expedited approval for airborne deliveries – or no approvals; changes to the circumstances under which drones can be operated; and faster approvals from federal officials for cloud computing services to be adopted. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also sits on Trump’s Opening Our Country Council, and the company gave $57,746 to Trump’s inaugural committee.
Facebook, meanwhile, is refusing to ban or remove false political advertisements from its platform. A pending shareholder resolution would require the company to investigate whether such advertisements pose a serious risk to investors, democracy, public discourse, or civil and human rights.
“Facebook already has shown it can remove coronavirus-related misinformation on the platform, which begs the question, why won’t it do the same for political misinformation?” said Rachel Curley, democracy advocate at Public Citizen.
Public Citizen is on the steering committee of the Corporate Reform Coalition, a group of investors, academics and advocacy organizations that has fought for full disclosure of corporations’ spending in politics for almost a decade