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Business Roundtable softening stance on political transparency?

The Business Roundtable indeed “appears to have significantly softened its stance on disclosure of political activity,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for political transparency.

The apparent shift, he said, “reflects a growing judgement that secret political spending violates our political norms and can create liabilities for businesses and their brands.”

But David Keating, president of the nonprofit Center for Competitive Politics, which advocates for political speech rights, disagrees, calling the Business Roundtable’s latest statement on political disclosure “unremarkable.”

Keating — whose legal efforts led to the creation of super PACs — noted that the Business Roundtable’s Principles of Corporate Governance document scolds corporate shareholders who attempt “to use the public companies in which they invest as platforms for the advancement of their personal agendas or for the promotion of general political or social causes.”

Other portions of the 28-page document reiterate this point, as corporations have sometimes faced efforts by “activist” shareholders bent on forcing the corporations to publicly disclose more information about their own politicking or financial support of political groups.

In sum, the Business Roundtable “does not appear to have softened its stance on voluntary disclosure,” Keating said. “Disclosing one’s affiliations with trade associations and nonprofits creates a roadmap for activists to pressure corporations in an attempt to starve [politically active nonprofit] groups of support and silence their voices.”

These days, however, the Business Roundtable is in part led by corporate executives whose companies publicly reveal a considerable amount of information about their political practices.

Of the 23 members of the Business Roundtable’s executive committee, eight — the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Boeing Co., Dow Chemical Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., Honeywell International Inc., General Electric Co. and MasterCard Inc. — ranked at or near the top of the 2016 edition of an annual corporate political transparency study conducted by the Center for Political Accountability and University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research. (It’s a study the Business Roundtable has previously criticized.)

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