New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has obtained commitments from Pacific Gas & Electric, Safeway and Sempra Energy to disclose corporate political spending and in the case of PG&E, the largest utility in California, an agreement to further detail its lobbying activities.
DiNapoli, a founding member of the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, oversees the New York State Common Retirement Fund, and is engaged in a number of corporate governance actions. CAPS is a bi-partisan coalition of elected officials with fiduciary responsibility of $1 trillion in public assets. It was formed in 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, granted corporations the ability to make unlimited contributions to political committees advocating for and against individual candidates for office.
“These agreements are a victory for shareholders and another step forward for transparency and accountability in the wake of Citizens United. I am proud that the New York State Common Retirement Fund is in the vanguard of the movement to ensure that companies are acting with the best interests of shareholders when they engage in political action,” DiNapoli said. “It is my hope that other companies will follow this lead by agreeing to fully disclose their political spending and lobbying costs."
New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, also a founding member of CAPS, added, “The Supreme Court’s landmark decision opened the flood gates to secret corporate spending in our elections, and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s outstanding work is helping to stem the tide. The groundbreaking agreements that Tom DiNapoli brokered will bring much needed transparency to corporate political spending while also protecting the best interests of shareholders. Under Tom DiNapoli’s leadership New York State is leading the fight on holding companies accountable for their political spending.”
DiNapoli said PG&E also committed to disclosing policies and procedures regarding political lobbying activities. All of the agreements include dues paid to trade associations that are used for political purposes. Trade associations are often actively involved in political advocacy campaigns but do not necessarily disclose corporate donors because they are organized as non-profits.
DiNapoli won similar commitments last September from Marriott International, Yum Brands and Limited Clothing to disclose corporate political spending. As comptroller, he has been seeking commitments to fully disclose corporate political spending and lobbying expenses from companies in which New York State pension funds are invested.
In 2010, along with partners at the Council of Institutional Investors, DiNapoli wrote to 430 of the S&P 500 companies asking them to disclose their political spending practices. When companies have been unwilling to negotiate political spending disclosure policies, DiNapoli has proposed shareholder resolutions seeking full disclosure. He filed eight last year and another 17 resolutions so far this year.
PG&E spent more than $90 million in 2010 on campaigns, electioneering and lobbying, according to a study of corporate governance of political expenditures by the Sustainable Investments Institute and the IRRC Institute. PG&E had the most intensive political spending by any publicly-traded corporation chiefly because of $45 million spent on a state referendum. PG&E spent $6,547 per million dollars in revenues on elections and lobbying in 2010 -- six times more than any other company in the S&P 500. The utility also contributed $10,000 to a Super PAC this year organized to support the re-election of a Democratic congressman in California.
The New York State Common Retirement Fund holds $59 million worth of PG&E stock, $54.3 million worth of Safeway stock, and $50.8 million worth of Sempra Energy. All three companies are based in California.
CAPS is a project of the Fund for Public Advocacy, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The Fund was established in 2002 to support the New York City Public Advocate’s Office in making government more responsive, accountable, and transparent.