“This is all about intimidation,” Tom Donohue, longtime president of the Chamber, told reporters during a breakfast event Monday.
He noted that some proposals ask companies to stop spending on politics altogether.
“That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” said Donohue, whose business-funded organization plans to spend a record $50 million on political campaigns this year.
For years, socially active shareholder groups — a universe that includes public pension funds, unions and religious environmental groups — have pushed companies to disclose details about their political spending. But the number of those proposals and support for them among established institutional investors have been on the rise.
The Sustainable Investments Institute, a Washington nonprofit that tracks shareholder resolutions, found that 109 — nearly a third of those up for votes at annual meetings in 2012 — sought more disclosures about spending on politics and lobbying.
The disclosure debate has taken on new urgency in an election year marked by anxiety over the economy and angst about the bigger role that wealthy individuals and special interests now play in political campaigns.
“We really have no idea how much is being spent and where it’s being spent,” said Nell Minow, a longtime corporate governance consultant who supports the push for transparency. “This is the defining issue of our time — the way that money and politics combine. If we don’t want the United States government to become a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America, we need to do something about it.”
To date, 101 major companies have agreed to disclosure and board oversight of some of their political spending, according to Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, which rates companies on the issue. Freed and others argue that disclosure can help executives and directors avoid reputational risk to their firms.
In recent months, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Intuit and other firms have faced pressure after revelations that they had supported a business advocacy group that championed “stand your ground” gun legislation, which gained notoriety after the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. A national campaign has led a dozen companies to announce they will not renew their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Wal-Mart, the giant retailer under fire for allegedly bribing Mexican officials, encountered another wave of vitriol when it was reported that the company also was a member of ALEC.