“A little older, a little more confused,” the late Dennis Hopper once intoned. One month into 2014, the same could be said for this writer. After all, what could be more confusing than members of the religious community employed as willing conspirators in the great organized labor gambit to stifle corporate political speech? Year after year, however, that’s increasingly the case.
For example, the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility’s recently redesigned website heralds its distaste for corporate participation in the political process:
Unchecked corporate cash in the form of political donations and lobbying expenditures has the power to exert undue influence over public policy and regulatory systems and threaten our democracy. Yet in spite of this power, most S&P 500 companies lack a formal system of lobbying oversight and don’t fully disclose how monies are being spent, particularly through third-party organizations like trade associations. Investors are concerned that lobbying expenditures may inadvertently be diverted to groups advancing agendas contrary to the stated missions of companies, setting up potential conflicts of interest and exposing companies to reputational risk.
Led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Walden Asset Management, ICCR members and other responsible investors are attempting to shine a light on corporate lobbying and political spending policies. Faith-based investors have filed shareholder resolutions with 19 companies. These proposals ask companies to disclose oversight policies and details around political donations and lobbying initiatives, including through trade associations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heartland Institute which spend heavily on ad campaigns designed to undercut regulations.
Got that? One of the country’s largest unions has joined with religious proxy shareholders to prevent companies from representing their interests in Washington and state capitals.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, AFSCME represents 1.6 million members of 3,400 unions as well as 240,000 retirees. CRP reports AFSCME spent monies in the following manner in 2012:
Contributions to candidates: $2,340,117
Contributions to Leadership PACs: $322,000
Contributions to parties: $305,310
Contributions to 527 committees: $53,509,506
Contributions to outside spending groups: $8,384,879
This amounts to a cool $65 million – overwhelmingly to progressive candidates, groups and causes. Of the $2.3 million donated to federal candidates, for example, only $2,000 was given to a Republican. That’s one, singular, individual Republican – in this instance, New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith.
“Wait,” you might ask, “if these amounts are available publically for AFSMCE why shouldn’t corporations adhere to the same transparency?” Because AFSCME represents public employees who work for public entities, which means there’s no negative blowback for supporting progressive policies and candidates. In other words, no one’s ever boycotted a government office or caused it to lose money.
Companies, however, are vulnerable to boycotts and “name-and-shame” public campaigns. One such company is Minnesota-based Target Corp. Target donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a pro-business political action group. MN Forward supported Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer strictly on his pro-business positions. Emmer, however, also had strong opinions on social issues, particularly against gay marriage. Target stores throughout the United States were subsequently protested or boycotted by gay marriage advocates. Given this real-world scenario, it’s no wonder corporations are wary of publicly disclosing their political contributions.
Same goes for The Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council – companies supporting the former’s Business and Tax initiative may incur unwarranted reactions because of the think tank’s stance on climate change (in the interest of full disclosure your writer serves as a policy advisor for Heartland).
Similarly, ALEC’s model “Stand Your Ground” legislation prompted more than 50 major companies to cease funding the group under pressure from liberal groups – regardless the dozens of model legislation drafted by ALEC members that would have been immensely beneficial to those very same companies. But those companies figured the very real negative publicity for supporting ALEC far outweighed the potential benefits it provided.
On this readers shouldn’t be confused as was Dennis Hopper: The name-and-shame tactic serves as punishment for any company brazen enough to support anything outside the progressive bubble. ICCR and its AFSCME cohorts aren’t seeking transparency in political speech, but are instead seeking to shut down all opposing voices.