Thursday, September 9, 2010

Large companies plan to spend indirectly on politics

WASHINGTON — Some of the nation's largest publicly traded companies said they will not channel corporate funds directly into political advertising that targets candidates, even though it is legal for them to do so.
But most of the companies surveyed by the nonpartisan Center for Political Accountability said they have no plans to impose conditions on political spending by their trade associations, which are nonprofits that can collect and spend unlimited amounts on campaign ads without publicly revealing their donors. One of the biggest is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has promised to spend a record $75 million in this year's elections.

"Companies might be pumping in many millions of dollars into elections that could be undisclosed," said Bruce Freed, president of the center, which encourages companies to disclose their political activity. "More and more trade associations are the vehicles for company political spending and activity."

Forty companies through Sept. 1 answered the survey, which went to 500 publicly traded companies.

None of the companies that responded said it would use corporate money to run independent ads that call for the election or defeat of candidates, a practice allowed after the Supreme Court in January struck down a decades-old ban on spending for those types of ads. Three — Coca-Cola, IBM and Hartford Financial Services Group — said they impose conditions on trade-group spending.

A fourth, Norfolk Southern, said it would raise concerns if a trade association engaged in political advertising with which it disagreed, but the corporation said it doesn't have procedures to track such spending.

James Hixon, executive vice president for law and corporate relations, said Norfolk Southern's political activity centers on contributions by its employee political action committee.

"We don't see the need to change the process we have had in place," he said. "We've supported our friends from both parties, and those who are not our friends, we just haven't supported."

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