Exploring the Role of Corporate Political Donations

Posted by Dan Bross
Senior Director, Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft

Much attention during this election cycle has been focused on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. The impact of Citizens United and a range of other issues – including the role of corporations in our political process here in the U.S., was the focus of a conference I spoke at last week in Washington, D.C. sponsored by The Conference Board.

As with most things related to the upcoming 2012 elections, there was spirited debate and discussion on a range of topics related to corporate governance, accountability, transparency and disclosure. Surprisingly, these topics too are being cast by some as right/left issues. Good corporate governance isn’t a left wing plot or a right wing gambit, it’s just smart economic and civic policy.

The conference brought together a range of well-respected election law experts, including current and former members of the Federal Election Commission; corporate CSR, governmental affairs and corporate governance professionals; representatives of trade associations; and members of the media. 

Lori Zyskowski, Executive Corporate, Securities and Finance Counsel for GE, led a discussion on the role of corporate disclosure. The session was moderated by Trevor Potter, a partner at Caplin & Drysdale and a former Chair of the Federal Election Commission. Both GE and Microsoft have adopted clear principles, policies and practices for guiding our participation in the political process in the U.S. This panel provided Lori and I with an opportunity to talk about our respective policies and share best practices and real life examples regarding implementation.

In the wake of the ‘Citizens United’ decision, there is growing interest in understanding how corporations are participating in the political process. That’s why Microsoft has adopted the practice of semi-annually posting all our political contributions on our public website.

Corporations have responded to the ‘Citizens United’ ruling in a variety of ways. Some have decided to ramp up their independent expenditures. Others, including Microsoft, have decided not to contribute to “527 organizations” – groups formed solely to influence elections, to which there are no upper limits on contributions.

Many of the issues raised during the conference are discussed in an article Trevor Potter and I recently co-authored in the current issue of CR Magazine. I hope you will find it to be of interest.

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