American corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to support candidates and shape policy at both the state and national levels. While US laws prevent companies from making direct contributions to federal candidates or national political parties, companies can spend massively on communications supporting or opposing a specific candidate, for example, as long as the funding is independent from that candidate’s committee. Companies may also give to political committees such as the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations, trade associations, or other non profits, none of which are required to disclose where their funds come from. They may also fund Super PACs, which have no limitations on how much money they can accept or disburse.
With so many secret company contributions, shareholders (and American citizens) can’t know who is influencing elections. This ‘dark money’ undermines accountability on how companies spend shareholder money, which goes against the very concept of democracy. Dark money has impacted policymaking on issues such as climate change, taxation, redistricting, criminal justice reform and LGBTQ rights. It can get so bad that companies sometimes find themselves footing the bill for a policy outcome that clashes with their own corporate values.
The Center for Political Accountability, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy organization, has been working on corporate political transparency and accountability since 2003. The Center has developed a rigorous rating system to grade the companies in the S&P 500 on how well they disclose political contributions, as well as accountability for those contributions. The Center also encourages these companies, some of the very largest in the US and in the world, to clearly state how they choose to influence policy. Some firms have taken a clear stance and decided to prohibit the use of corporate funds for political ends, others have chosen to keep their contributions secret. OpenInvest relies on the Center’s CPA-Zicklin Index to identify companies that are going above and beyond, and those that are choosing to remain in the shadows.