77% of Business Leaders Want Disclosure Laws

Last week, we wrote about the negative reaction some local chambers of commerce have had to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s $75 million spending spree on campaign ads. It turns out small businesses aren’t the only ones upset by the Chamber’s political spending and wary of getting involved in national politics. Eliza Newlin Carney of the National Journal reports that many business leaders are questioning the wisdom of contributing to political campaigns, and especially of keeping those contributions secret:

In a Zogby International poll of more than 300 business leaders commissioned by the CED, fully 77 percent said that they “strongly” or “somewhat” support disclosure of the political money corporations spend, both directly and indirectly through third-party groups that run campaign ads. Two-thirds supported the statement that “the lack of transparency and oversight in corporate political activity encourages behavior that puts corporations at legal risk and endangers corporate reputations.”

Caught in the crossfire is the U.S. Chamber, whose pro-GOP spending and advertising blitz was underwritten in part by seven-figure corporate contributions. A trio of Massachusetts investors last month filed shareholder resolutions at some half-dozen corporations that sit on the chamber’s board, urging them to take a more active role on what they called the trade group’s “passive and compliant” board.

Shareholders object to the chamber’s aggressive and partisan midterm spending, its recent lobbying push to challenge or stall recently-enacted financial reforms, and to its policy positions on issues such as climate change, said Timothy Smith, senior vice president at Boston-based Walden Asset Management, one of three investor groups that issued the challenge. Shareholders have also approached close to two dozen companies that do not serve on the chamber’s board, Smith said.

And it seems that many business leaders took to heart the lesson that Target learned the hard way this summer when it spent money to help the campaign of far-right Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer and met with a strong backlash:

“I think there are real counter-pressures developing,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that advocates better corporate governance. Business leaders are increasingly sensitive to the risks that their campaign expenditures pose, said Freed. The uproar over Target Corp.’s indirect backing for a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate opposed to gay rights was a wakeup call, he added: “Companies are recognizing that we really need to protect ourselves.”

When 77% of business leaders join 84% of Americans in agreeing that their political spending should be disclosed to the public, it makes you wonder just who Republicans in Congress are looking out for by refusing to pass disclosure legislation.
 

PFAW