New revelations about the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) illustrate the need for greater transparency by corporations for their political and lobbying spending. The internal documents released by The Guardian show that ALEC has targeted dozens of large corporations for fundraising in 2013, including what ALEC calls “prodigal son” corporations that had previously dropped their membership because of the organization’s controversial positions.
The documents also show that ALEC is creating a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization called the “Jeffersonian Project” to enhance its political lobbying activity. Unlike labor unions, corporations do not have to disclose their contributions to 501(c)4 organizations, and spending by these groups has increased dramatically after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
In Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “shareholder objections raised through the procedures of corporate democracy” would provide accountability for corporate political spending. Without such accountability, there is a danger that executives will spend corporate money in ways that further their personal political views rather than the interests of investors.
More than 700,000 individuals and organizations have written the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require this needed disclosure. However, the SEC recently declined to put disclosure of corporate political spending on its regulatory agenda for 2014. Until the SEC decides to act on this issue, investors will continue to be in the dark about whether their companies contribute to groups like ALEC.
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