Paul Hodgson: Shareholder resolutions on corporate election-related spending are getting top scores

Resolutions using the CPA’s model have been filed at almost 60 companies this year

The Center for Political Accountability, the US advocacy organization that targets corporate political disclosure, is having its best ever year.

“The CPA has been having its strongest proxy season so far, that shows widespread support for political disclosure and accountability by shareholders and companies,” said CPA’s Bruce Freed in an email.

Resolutions using the CPA’s model have been filed at almost 60 companies this year. Votes are known for 28 companies, and the average level of support is 37%, with two majority votes – at Macy’s and Cognizant Technology – and 10 votes in the 40-49% range (Allstate, Alaska Air and Nucor).

There are another 10 in the 30-39% range (Simon Property, Wynn Resorts and Duke Energy).

“The CEO of one company with a strong plurality vote has indicated he wants the company to adopt a robust policy,” added Freed. “Nine more votes are coming up soon and there will be crucial out of season votes. All of this is on top of 12 agreements so far this season.”

The lowest level of support was at PayPal, with only 7.4% support, though the company already makes some disclosures.

The 12 agreements include some sizeable companies like GE, Hilton, Mondelez International, Chubb and Ameriprise Financial, as well as, interestingly, MSCI.

There was also a vote at data centre firm Equinix on a resolution filed by corporate governance “gadflies” James McRitchie and John Chevedden which had 34% support.

Upcoming votes include Netflix (McRitchie/Chevedden), Roper Technologies (filed by Sonen Capital) and American Airlines (McRitchie/Chevedden). Later this month there will be a vote on a resolution at Carmax (filed by the Teamsters union).As can be seen, the CPA has worked with a wide range of shareholders, including Mercy Investment Services, the New York State Comptroller, Trillium and the Nathan Cummings Foundation in addition to those mentioned above.

An important addition to the list of filers has been McRitchie and Chevedden, who, between them, filed nine of the resolutions that have come to a vote, and two of those that reached agreement.

In addition, Newground Social Investment’s Bruce Herbert filed one of the voted-on resolutions and two that reached agreement. The resolutions filed by this gadfly group are among the most strongly supported.

Although the object of a lobbying disclosure resolution rather than a political spending one – the distinction is important and often overlooked – phone giant AT&T showed the power of the CPA-Zicklin Index over a company’s reputation.

The company’s ill-advised payment to Donald Trump’s fixer lawyer and now inmate Michael Cohen, funds which then found their way into an account that paid off porn star Stormy Daniels, led to a major scandal.

However, as a result of the agreement to improve disclosures, a senior executive is said to have commented that it could move the company to the top of the Index.

The company already scored relatively highly because, since 2012, AT&T has issued a report identifying ballot measures, political committees and the many candidates it supported with corporate contributions, along with candidates receiving donations from one or other of the company’s political action committees.

With the additional disclosures about industry and tax-exempt groups, it could mean that AT&T could score among the most transparent companies.