To learn first-hand how public policy is made, about 30 graduate students at St. Paul, Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas met in Washington with Center for Political Accountability leaders on July 25.
Jim Nikolai, an adjunct professor in the university’s Public Policy and Leadership program, is familiar with CPA’s work and wanted his students to learn how policy is influenced outside of the legislative or executive processes.
In opening the session, Nikolai told the students that adopting disclosure positively influences the behavior of a publicly held corporation. It gives a company the opportunity to say “no” when political payments are solicited. And it may give company officials pause when weighing a political expenditure, as they are forced to think, “’Do we really want to go to the CEO with this?’”
Bruce Freed, CPA president, told the students how CPA presses for political disclosure through the corporate governance process. This approach has succeeded in part because companies understand it, and in part because it provides a way to circumvent the gridlock in government.
“By going outside the political process we’ve been able to achieve change that never would have been possible” in Congress or through the executive branch, Freed said.
At a recent expert panel on corporate
political activity, a senior staffer for The
Conference Board emphasized the positive
experience reported by companies that have
chosen to disclose their political
Now you can listen to the remarks of Marcel Bucsescu, assistant director of The Conference Board Governance Center. The Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals has made a recording of the session available at its website.
During a robust debate, Bucsescu spoke favorably about corporations’ experience with disclosure, and also about board oversight. Bucsescu is a leader for The Conference Board Committee on Corporate Political Spending.
Public companies that belong to the Committee have recognized the need for disclosure and how it fits their interests, and they have fashioned disclosure programs that fit their needs. These companies “have found benefits to disclosing,” Bucsescu said.
In some cases, member companies engage their investors proactively around disclosure, he said. Some companies use disclosure to engage with other stakeholders. And many tie disclosure directly to their public policy strategy overall.
Noting that he was speaking on behalf of Committee members, Bucsescu said they went through a process of asking the “fundamental question” of whether they would engage in public policy, and if they decided affirmatively, they then tackled another set of questions that reached all the way to disclosure.
“’Do we disclose? And what do we disclose? And what works for our organization, and our industry, and the broader interest for the society in which we operate?’”
“By and large, [for] the Committee members, it’s certainly a positive experience for them,” Bucsescu said.
Bucsescu also said disclosure can be used as a way for companies to rebuild trust and address an anti-business climate. He said people have long cared about “the influence of companies, not only on our elected representatives but also on their daily lives.”
Regarding board oversight, Bucsescu said, “I think the key thing is the board is engaged here, understands the policy and has thought through it with management, and then provides the appropriate amount of oversight."