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PfizerA movement by shareholder groups across the country to force transparency about political activity upon their companies is gaining some traction as annual meeting time approaches.

Those efforts aren’t necessarily new. According to CitizensVox,  shareholders have filed more than 500 resolutions calling for more transparency in corporate political activity since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, holding that corporations had the right to spend unlimited amounts of money calling for the election or defeat of candidates.

What are new are the bills being introduced in state legislatures across the country, including House Bill 636 filed here, requiring corporations to make disclosure and in some cases get shareholder consent before spending company dollars on political contributions or expenditures.

Companies and trade groups gave more than $48 million to races for state-level candidates in 2014, and more than $211 million to state-level ballot measure campaigns, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Here’s Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin, who’s also a professor of law at American University, explaining the underlying concept:

Even if citizens cannot keep executives from spending corporate money in elections, surely shareholders can stop it. After all, it’s their money, right?

Indeed, it is.

In fact, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United essentially invites a shareholder solution. The premise of the decision was that government cannot block corporate political spending because a corporation is simply an association of citizens with free-speech rights, “an association that has taken on the corporate form,” as Kennedy put it. But if that is true, it follows that corporate managers should not spend citizen-shareholders’ money on political campaigns without their consent.

Kennedy wrote that, if shareholders oppose political expenditures made by management, they will be able to correct the situation “through the procedures of corporate democracy.” This will be easy to do, he predicted, because all political spending will be thoroughly disclosed online: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.”

A number of corporations face shareholder proposals at meetings this spring, including two of interest in North Carolina: Duke Energy and Bank of America.

Duke Energy shareholders have refiled a request made last year that the company disclose the details of its corporate political spending, including amounts and recipients.  As noted in the company’s shareholder meeting notice, that proposal garnered approval from close to half of Duke Energy shareholders last year.

Here’s the Duke Energy shareholder proposal:

Duke shareholders

In Bank of America’s case, shareholders are asking for better disclosure of lobbying expenses. Below is their proposal:

BOA shareholders

Not surprisingly, the board of directors for each company oppose the proposals.

 

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Governor McCrory approved a controversial charter schools bill today that some had speculated might be the only veto of the 2014 session. As NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner reported last week in a story entitled “Less transparency, fewer protections hallmarks of latest charter school legislation,” the bill provides a means for supposedly public charter schools to keep compensation paid to employees secret and opens the door to discrimination against LGBT students.

In his signing message, McCrory said that the salary secrecy issue had been adequately addressed  in the bill.

“I am pleased the Legislature responded to my concerns and required full transparency for the names and salaries of all charter school teachers and employees. I have also asked Chairman Bill Cobey and members of our State Board of Education to ensure that contracts with private entities also provide transparency on salaries and other personnel information. Consistent with the State Board of Education’s authority to oversee the successful operations of public charter schools, Chairman Cobey has assured me that he will direct agency staff to collect information from charter schools, including all financial and personnel records, necessary to achieve that goal.”

As Wagner’s story noted, however, the Governor may be missing an important point:

“The bill, SB 793 Charter School Modifications, stipulates that the salaries of charter school teachers and those who sit on charter schools’ non-profit boards of directors are subject to public disclosure.

But many charter schools in North Carolina contract with for-profit companies that manage them—and the salaries of the employees of those private organizations would not be required to be made public.”

Not surprisingly, the Governor left the issue of discrimination against LGBT children completely unaddressed in his signing statement.

Read the rest of Wagner’s story – including critiques of the bill by various experts – by clicking here.

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It kind of feels like dispensing praise for not robbing a bank, but hey, in today’s North Carolina political world , we’ll take what we can get.

Accordingly, the House of Representatives deserves a sincere ‘attaboy and ‘attagirl for passing legislation this week to require electronic records filing by most local and state candidates and political committees. The provision was watered down somewhat and doesn’t go into effect for three years, but it’s better than nothing. As the good people at the Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform noted with justifiable pride:

“The North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is commends the NC House for passing a bill today to require electronic filing of campaign reports.  All political campaigns and committees raising and/or spending more than $5,000 will be required to submit electronic reports to the NC Board of Elections beginning January 1, 2017.

The Coalition has been working for over five years to get electronic filing which will make it easier for citizens to see how much money candidates raise and from whom.  It will save the state money because state employees will no longer have to key in data from handwritten or typed reports.
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ICYMI, the Wilmington Star-News hits the nail on the head with this editorial on transparency in charter schools. After noting efforts by local charter school boss and all-purpose right-wing crusader Baker Mitchell to keep details of his Roger Bacon Academy secret, the editorial says this:

“The state Senate is considering a bill that would make it abundantly clear that Mitchell and other charter school owners and operators are bound by North Carolina’s public records and open-meetings laws. Period. The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday passed the bill that clarifies that point, as well as one that is intended to ensure that charter school proposals are not rejected arbitrarily.

But some Honorables have made noise about deleting the disclosure provision – the one that is supposed to assure taxpayers that their education dollars are being spent to educate children, not to enrich private companies being paid by the state to compete with public schools.

They should leave it in, and Gov. Pat McCrory should refuse to sign any bill that does not unequivocally state that charter schools, funded overwhelmingly by taxpayers’ money, are subject to the same disclosure rules as “other” public schools.

Of all people, Republican lawmakers who rode into office decrying wasteful government spending surely recognize that the best remedy for that thing they so despise is transparency – especially when it comes to how tax dollars are spent.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

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It looks like state legislators may be taking their cue from North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos on an important issue: public access to government information.

A few weeks back, as you will recall,  Wos solemnly informed reporters that transparency can be “dangerous” in government. Today, the state Senate put Wos’ philosophy into action by passing legislation to do away with public notice requirements for several local governments.

WRAL.com has the story: Read More