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Under shareholder pressure, companies disclose political spending

Last year's Citizens United decision allows companies unlimited campaign contributions

According to a recent survey by the Center for Political Accountability, a non-profit created in 2003 with a goal to bring transparency to corporations' political spending, an increasing number of companies is disclosing the contributions they make to political campaigns.

That may be thanks to shareholder pressure in the aftermath of the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which gave companies carte blanche in political spending. Prior to Citizens United, corporate political contributions were capped at $5,000.

A Reuters report about the Center's survey points to an incident with Target Corp. last year in which the retail giant contributed $150,000 to a group that backed a Republican politician who opposed gay marriage. Some of its shareholders were upset, while many people cried for a boycott.

Bruce Freed, president of the Center, said that type of shareholder anger has gotten companies' attention. "Now there is greater recognition that political spending poses real risks," Freed said. "Are they there yet? No. But the direction is important."

The Center said some big-name companies, such as Colgate-Palmolive Co., IBM and Merck & Co., are listening to their shareholders' requests and opening their books about their political contributions. The survey also found that three-fifths of the Standard & Poor's 100 companies are now reporting direct corporate spending, while 43 companies report some information about political spending through third parties such as trade groups.

Read more on Reuters about the Center's survey.

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