Report: Voluntary Corporate Political Spending Disclosure Does Not Work
Washington, D.C.—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today released "The Myth of Corporate Disclosure Exposed", a new report exposing the failure of major corporations to keep their promises on political spending disclosure.
CREW compared political spending reports from 60 companies to contributions disclosed on tax forms filed by section 527 political organizations such as the Democratic and Republican governors' associations and found significant discrepancies for more than one-third of the companies.
"CREW's report shows that voluntary corporate political spending disclosure does not work. Even when companies appear to disclose their political spending, the information is often confusing, inaccurate, or misleading. We need clear, mandatory disclosure standards so shareholders and customers can learn exactly which politicians and politically active groups are funded with their money," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said.
The findings led CREW to file a rulemaking petition today with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), calling for mandatory, standardized corporate political spending disclosure requirements that will be easier for investors to navigate.
Key Findings from the “The Myth of Corporate Disclosure Exposed”
- For 25 of the 60 companies included in the study, CREW found significant discrepancies between companies’ reports and the 527 organizations’ disclosures;
- 527 organizations reported contributions from 20 companies that had not disclosed those contributions at all;
- The significant discrepancies in political spending for the 25 companies totaled more than $3.1 million between 2011 and 2013.
Among the companies included were:
- Microsoft, whose reports omitted nearly $1 million in political contributions to 527 organizations from 2011–2013;
- Pfizer, whose reports had approximately $395,000 in discrepancies between what the company voluntarily disclosed and what 527 organizations reported in contributions; and
- Prudential, whose reports differed from contributions disclosed by 527 organizations by approximately $211,000.
CREW's work exposing insurance giant Aetna's misreported political spending prompted this latest, wider report. In 2012, CREW discovered Aetna had inadvertently disclosed more than $7 million in contributions to political groups. CREW also found Aetna’s contribution reports are riddled with inaccuracies. Acting on behalf of an Aetna shareholder, CREW filed a lawsuit against Aetna in December 2013 for publishing false and misleading proxy statements in 2012 and 2013.
As CREW stated in its petition to the SEC, “The many problems that voluntary disclosure policies have created demonstrate conclusively they are no substitute for regulations that would provide a clearly delineated, unambiguous, and uniform set of disclosure requirements for all public companies.”