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Fighting for Corporate Disclosure

At the same time, a growing number of corporate leaders and business associations are hosting conferences and releasing white papers, handbooks and indexes that urge American companies to look more closely at how they spend political money. Even as public attention zeros in on the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots, some CEOs are quietly signaling that they’ve already gotten the message.

Plenty of CEOs and corporate leaders are eager to spend aggressively on elections, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling to free up independent corporate and labor political spending. But in some corporate boardrooms, there’s a growing concern that big money can generate bad PR beyond just the activists in lower Manhattan.

Last month, business leaders with the Committee for Economic Development hosted a Washington, D.C., forum to release three public reports on corporate political spending — and to urge CEOs to stop showering big money on elections or to at least disclose what they spend.

On Oct. 20 the Conference Board, a business membership and research association, will hold a similar symposium in Manhattan hosted by its Committee on Corporate Political Spending, which includes representatives from big companies such as Merck & Co., Microsoft Corp., Pfizer Inc. and the Campbell’s Soup Co.

The symposium’s emphasis is on “corporations helping corporations,” said Marcel Bucsescu, the Conference Board’s manager of corporate leadership. The event will include remarks by Washington, D.C., election lawyer and former FEC Commissioner Trevor Potter and will cover topics such as “who do you support, how do you make those decisions, what’s the role of the board, what do you disclose,” Bucsescu said.

Also this month, the Center for Political Accountability will release what it’s calling the C-Z Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability Index at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia. The index will comprehensively rank how companies engage in, manage and oversee political spending. It comes on the heels of another index, released by the Baruch College Zicklin School of Business, which measures companies’ willingness to disclose their corporate political activity.

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