Thursday, January 16, 2014
(1) Corporate Disclosures, (2) Indirect Advocacy, (3) Climate Change, and (4) Institutional Investors
The Union of Concerned Scientists, an alliance of more than 400,000 citizens and scientists, released a report today: Tricks of the Trade: How Companies Influence Climate Policy Through Business and Trade Associations. The report is based on data collected by CDP, an international not-for-profit that “works with investors, companies and governments to drive environmental disclosure”. CDP administers an annual climate reporting questionnaire to more than 5,000 companies worldwide with the support of various institutional investors (722 institutional investors with over $87 trillion in capital). The 2013 questionnaire asked companies about climate policy influence, including board membership in trade associations, lobbying, and donations to research organizations.
Tricks of the Trade highlights outsourced political influence through the use of trade associations and interest groups that lobby on behalf of their members rather than the members engaging in these activities in their own name. The report highlights 3 main issues: (1) lack of transparency, (2) incongruence with the outsourced message among responding companies, and (3) the continued role that the Citizens United decision has on corporate spending and political discourse.
Of the 5,557 companies that received the climate change questionnaire (through either CDP’s request or their voluntary participation), 2,323 responded, and only 1,824 (33 percent) of them replied publicly.
Ninety-seven Global 500 companies—the top 500 companies in the world by revenue—including Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, did not participate.
In the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500—a market value index of large U.S. companies—166 companies, including Comcast and the Southern Company, did not participate.
The report highlights that proposed rules before the SEC for corporate political spending disclosures would address some transparency concerns and notes that the SEC has no plans to address this issue in 2014. This is no small issue considering the number of institutional investors and amount of invested capital ($87 trillion, with a "T"!!) behind this initiatve. CDP sends its survey to corporations on behalf of the signatory institutional investors who are shareholders.
These shareholder requests for information encourage companies to account for and be transparent about environmental risk. Transparency of this data throughout the global market place ensures the financial community has access to the best available corporate climate change information to help drive investment flows towards a low carbon and more sustainable economy
Ninety-five companies noted that at least one of their trade groups had a climate policy position that was partially or wholly inconsistent with their own, for a total of 172 such responses across all trade groups.
The 2013 questionnaire, while focused on climate change issues, is relevant to broader questions of corporate political influence and spending, the SEC’s agenda for 2014, and the role of corporate disclosures. If you are teaching corporations/BA this semester, this 12 page report raises several issues that, in my opinion, would elicit a great classroom discussion when you get to the role and purpose of corporations, sections on the disclosure regime of our securities markets, and even on shareholder rights to information.