Political spending and corporate money in politics is a highly contentious issue, made more prominent in light of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case that affirmed companies’ rights to make unlimited political expenditures to independent groups. In the 2012 election year, we expect even more media and public attention to corporate spending to influence elections. Experts predict that an unprecedented amount of money will be spent in the 2012 election season.
Recent polls highlight the public’s disapproval. In a June 2010 Harris poll, 85% of voters said that corporations “have too much influence over the political system today….” In February 2010, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 80% opposed Citizens United, noting, “the bipartisan nature of these views is striking in these largely partisan times.”
Corporate political contributions can backfire on a corporation’s reputation and bottom line. In 2010, Target and Valero received unwanted attention, consumer boycotts, and protests for their support of controversial candidates and ballot measures. In a Harris Poll released in October 2010, a sizable portion (46)% of respondents indicated that if there were option, they would shop elsewhere if they learned that a business they patronized had contributed to a candidate or a cause that they oppose.
According to the Institute for Money in State Politics, Bank of America’s political spending on the state and federal levels totaled over $2.1 million in 2007-2008. However, this figure does not include payments to trade associations or other tax-exempt organizations that may channel corporate money to political ends.
Many trade associations that receive corporate contributions spend vast sums in electoral politics; these payments are not required to be disclosed. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pledged to spend between $50 and $75 million in the 2010 election season, and announced that it would work to unseat any member of Congress who voted for healthcare reform. According to Public Citizen, only 32% of groups broadcasting electioneering communications in the 2010 primary season revealed the identities of donors in their Federal Election Commission filings, down from nearly 100 percent in the 2004 and 2006 cycles.
Increasingly, companies such as IBM, Colgate Palmolive, Wells Fargo and others are adopting policies prohibiting spending of political funds directly or indirectly to influence elections.
Given the risks and potential negative impact on shareholder value, the proponents believe Bank of America should adopt a policy to refrain from using treasury funds in the political process.
The shareholders request that the board of directors adopt a policy prohibiting the use of corporate funds for any political election or campaign.
We believe this policy should include any direct or indirect contribution that is intended to influence the outcome of an election or referendum. It should also prohibit the use of trade associations or non-profit corporations from channeling our company’s contributions or membership dues to influence the outcome of any election or referendum.