Surprise! The Wall Street Journal Wants Corporate Political Spending Kept in the Dark

Hey shareholders, want some alarmist conspiracy theories from a newspaper editorial that conveniently ignores facts in order to make a tortured argument sound plausible? That’s the Wall Street Journal’s latest take on a new index designed to encourage transparent, open elections.

At issue is the CPA-Zicklin Index, which ranks companies’ political spending disclosure policies based on factors like whether a company discloses contributions to candidates, parties, dark money groups, etc.

If the Journal wasn’t so busy packing red meat into their editorial on the index (Unions! Soros!) it would have likely noted that corporate political spending disclosure lags woefully behind union political spending disclosure. It probably also would have noted that support for shareholder resolutions calling on companies to disclose political spending has been steadily increasing over the years since the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling.

While many companies have commendably decided to be more transparent about how they work to influence elections, inaction by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has left plenty of wide open avenues for dark money.

In other words, even for companies that rank well on the index, there is room for improvement.

Shareholders of a company deserve full disclosure, including donations to groups like trade associations and politically active nonprofit organizations, which are capable of spending unlimited, undisclosed money in elections.

We’re not being nitpicky here. Of the roughly $336 million dollars spent by outside groups to influence the 2014 elections, more than half has come from those dark money groups. It’s still far too easy to quietly funnel millions into elections with shareholders and voters none-the-wiser.

Of course, all of this would be a moot point if the Securities and Exchange Commission would move forward with a rulemaking that simply requires companies to disclose information on political spending.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that gave corporations to green light to spend in elections, Justice Anthony Kennedy assumed corporate spending would be accompanied by disclosure.

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.

Instead, the SEC, despite overwhelming public support, has dragged its feet in writing a rule that would make Kennedy’s assumption true.

In the meantime, shareholders are right to demand that the companies they own be forthright about their political activity, and thankfully shareholders on both sides of the political spectrum continue agitating for this information.

It’s clear that most shareholders are not buying the Wall Street Journal’s dishonest blathering. But it deserves to be exposed as the partisan propaganda that it is.

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