The Great Debate

SEC should force companies to disclose their political spending

The explosion in hidden election spending is one of the most discussed phenomena in American politics today. What’s 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 major 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 for all public companies to report.

And it’s time that the Securities and Exchange Commission hastens universal disclosure by requiring publicly held companies to disclose their direct and indirect political spending with corporate funds. The Commission can do this by moving forward on a petition submitted by a bipartisan group of eminent law professors almost two years ago.

It would not be a radical step. In fact, an SEC rule would merely be ratifying 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.

The Center for Political Accountability has been documenting this trend in its CPA-Zicklin Index, an annual benchmarking study conducted in cooperation with the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Are a CEO’s health problems a private matter?

dr-jgsm-05– Dana Radcliffe is a Day Family senior lecturer of business ethics at the Johnson School at Cornell University. The views expressed are his own. —

Are a CEO’s health problems a private matter? Or does he or she have an obligation to disclose them to investors and other stakeholders?

These are questions Apple and its iconic co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs have had to face ever since he was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2003.  Happily, the disease proved to be treatable with surgery, which Jobs underwent in 2004.  But shareholders didn’t learn that Apple’s chief had been ill until he sent out an email to employees, announcing that he had had cancer but was now “cured.”