Financial Times, Washington Post Highlight Strong CPA Coverage As Attacks on Political Disclosure Escalate
The Center for Political Accountability’s profile was elevated at home and abroad by favorable coverage in mainstream news media and also by a burst of concentrated attacks from foes of corporate political transparency.
The Washington Post reported on a wave of shareholder disclosure resolutions during proxy season 2013 and credited CPA with having “pioneered the push for disclosure.”
The London-based Financial Times published an interview with CPA President Bruce Freed about the center’s initiative with four business and law schools to integrate corporate political accountability into business school curriculums (see separate newsletter story below).
Meanwhile, advocates of secrecy in political spending unleashed a series of attacks on CPA. These detractors included the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Weekly Standard, the Center for Competitive Politics and three major national trade associations.
The critiques sounded familiar themes and featured some ad hominen attacks in what appeared to be a coordinated effort to undermine CPA’s transparency initiative. At the same time, they took notice of CPA’s effectiveness. CPA’s Freed “may be the most important figure in American business you’ve never heard of,” the Weekly Standard stated.
If the attacks were intended to sway opinion against disclosure, they gained no traction with editorial boards of Bloomberg News, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times and a host of other papers around the country. Their editorials urged adoption by the Securities and Exchange Commission of a political disclosure rule for companies.
The three national trade associations delivered the first salvo of harsh attacks against CPA and its leaders with a letter to Fortune 200 companies in April. (See April CPA Newsletter). The groups are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers.
That was followed by the dismissive Wall Street Journal editorial, a Center for Competitive Politics “Myths vs. Facts” online commentary and the lengthy Weekly Standard denunciation. A fact checker on the attacks is posted on CPA’s website. CPA Fact Checker
Founder’s Column: SEC Should Follow Corporate America’s Lead On Petition for Political Disclosure Rule
By Bruce Freed, CPA President
Anybody who follows one of the most-discussed issues of the day, exploding hidden political spending, probably knows that a bipartisan group of eminent law professors has petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt a political disclosure rule.
What is less known is that a large number of America’s leading corporations are disclosing their political spending, and that number is steadily growing. More than 100 corporations, including 60 in the S&P 100 Index -- comprised of the nation’s most influential companies -- have taken this step, reaching agreements with shareholders to disclose their spending.
Now it’s time that all public corporations report and that the SEC hasten universal disclosure by requiring publicly held companies to identify publicly their direct and indirect political spending with corporate funds.
This would not be a radical step by the SEC. In fact, it would ratify a trend emerging from boardrooms across America including those of Merck, Microsoft, Exelon, Time Warner, Norfolk Southern, Wells Fargo and Aflac. Moreover, it would be in line with shareholder votes that have strongly supported corporate political disclosure for the past several years.
An SEC rule also would assure companies that everyone is playing by the same rules. Uniformity advances the business interest of any company that is confident in its ability to thrive on a level playing field and does not seek to tilt the field with secret money.
There is also legal justification. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for an 8-1 majority in Citizens United that with swift online disclosure, “Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interests in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.” Unfortunately, the kind of disclosure hasn’t happened yet. Its absence makes an SEC rule even more critical.
If the SEC wishes to codify a growing mainstream practice, provide uniformity where a patchwork exists and help protect investors from the risks of political spending, it will give serious consideration to proposing a new corporate political disclosure rule.