As you aspire to a better understanding of corporate political responsibility, you might have a few questions. We’ve compiled a list of resources that you can access below for some guidance through the process. Check back frequently as we will be continuing to update these lists. If you still have questions, or are seeking more resources on a specific topic, please contact us!
Resources that summarize the economic, societal and environmental cases for corporate political responsibility.
Why Corporate Political Responsibility?
- CSR Needs CPR: Corporate Sustainability and Politics (Tom Lyon et al, CMR, 2018): Suggests that a company’s political activities may have more impact on social and environmental sustainability than operations, and argues that corporate political responsibility requires transparency, accountability, and responsibility.
- Under a Microscope: A New Era of Scrutiny for Corporate Political Activity (The Conference Board, 2021): A robust overview of current legal landscape for corporate political activity. It highlights the reputational and other risks companies need to manage, and the need for oversight and transparency to govern political spending.
- Here’s What American’s Expect From Corporate America in the Wake of the Capitol Riots (Just Capital, 2021): Poll results that show a super-majority of Americans agree that CEOs have a role in upholding democracy, and believe corporate political spending should be disclosed.
- Here’s What Americans Expect From Corporate America in the Wake of the Capitol Riot (JUST Capital, 2021): Results from a Harris Poll that found a majority of Americans look to CEOs and corporations, rather than politicians, to protect and uphold democracy.
- The Purpose Of The IBC/WEF Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics Initiative: A Conversation With Brian Moynihan (Robert G. Eccles, Forbes, 2020): The IBC/WEF Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism report sifts through an increasing array of ESG metrics to arrive at 22 central measurements that could provide a blueprint for uniform reporting, including an “extended metric” on lobbying alignment.
- Large Corporations Contributed to Our Political Polarization: Here’s How They Can Fix It (Mark Mizruchi, Niskanen Center, 2020): This report provides an expansive history that ties the corporate condition to various policy eras, and makes a case for private sector investment in public policy (and not just one-off, charitable CSR initiatives).
- Why CEOs think speaking out is worth it, despite the risks (Phil Wahba, Fortune, May 2021): It is no longer a question of “if” CEOs should speak out on social or political issues, but “how.” And those that do have one resounding suggestion for how to do it: be deliberate.
- Friedman @50: Is It Still the Social Responsibility of Business to Increase Profits? (Karthik Ramanna, CMR, 2020):This paper reflects on Friedman’s famous claim that American business should solely be driven to increase profits. Oxford Professor Karthik Ramanna homes in on the qualifying clause of Friedman’s argument—that markets need non-market institutions to safeguard the conditions for competition—and that if corporations have influence in shaping the market, then it is not free. The report argues that corporate influence on the political landscape has tilted in their favor, often at the expense of the public sphere.
- Time to Transform (WBCSD, 2021): In a major refresh of its Vision 2050, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development argues that the decade ahead is critical if we are to achieve “9+ billion people living well within planetary boundaries.” They highlight the need to shift political and economic incentives that push companies into short-term behaviors that undermine societal or environmental systems, and propose a new CPR-driven mindset where firms align all policy influence activities to purpose statements and sustainability goals, partner to generate new policy ideas and help ensure relevant stakeholders are at the table.
- It’s time to finally drain the swamp, one company at a time (Judy Samuelson, February 2021): Can companies have a political voice without financial influence? Samuelson poses three key questions for boards to ask themselves in an attempt to become more politically transparent and to disrupt the potentially corrupting interplay between politicians and corporations.
- Beyond CSR: Corporate Political Responsibility (California Management Review, 2018): This quick video based on the article, CSR Needs CPR: Corporate Sustainability and Politics, suggests that corporate social responsibility needs to be bolstered and supported by more robust corporate political responsibility. The video details what CPR could look like and how managers should approach decision making through this lens.
Data and analysis of the scope and trends in corporate political activity.
Current Trends in Corporate Political Activity
- 2020 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability (Center for Political Accountability, Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, Wharton, 2020): An authoritative overview of the types of corporate political spending and current scores for S&P 500 on disclosure, prohibition, and oversight.
- Money in Politics, One Month Later (Ephrat Livni, et al, New York Times, 2021): An analysis of spending halts taken by companies such as Morgan Stanley and Microsoft. The article ties these actions to analogous scenarios where memory and action were short-spanned, and provides the context behind dark money to hypothesize that this time could be no different.
- Corporate PAC money: Halting political donations isn’t enough (Timothy Werner, Fortune, 2021): Op-ed about how corporate commitment must go beyond political contribution, as broader political spending seriously outweighs contributions and true change cannot be made without bolder action.
- Recovery Squandered (Michael Porter et al, HBS, 2019): While this report more broadly assesses America’s competitiveness, Chapter 3: The Role of Business in Politics Today and Tomorrow, identifies business’s fault for political gridlock, and volunteers solutions. (See pg 28-36)
- Conflicted Consequences (Center for Political Accountability, 2020) This report reveals the insidious nature of 527 organizations. It identifies the contradictions they create against bipartisan rhetoric while highlighting the means by which these organizations distance companies from their political spending.
- Dark Money, Illuminated (Issue One, 2016): Informative look at what dark money is, how it came to be, and the influence it has on shaping our society. Provides both a report and a first-of-its-kind database shining a light on transactions happening in the dark.
- Fmr Chief Justice Leo E. Strine’s Foreword to 2019 CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability (Center for Political Accountability, Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, Wharton, 2019): Foreword by former Chief Justice Leo E.Strine asks on what legitimate basis companies influence civic and political processes using shareholders’ (and often, workers’) capital. Argues that, in aggregate, political influence has increased uncertainty and hurt investment. (See pg 7-8)
- Are Businesses Undermining Democracy? (Stanford GSB, February 2021): Stanford provides a summary of various dialogues held at their Conference on Corporations and Democracy. While this article provides a broad overview of key takeaways, it links to more in-depth views of discussed topics including de-corruption, corporate legal rights, and what it means to operate a business justly.
- Fiduciary Blind Spot (Leo E. Strine, Harvard Law School, 2019): Researchers describe the “double legitimacy” problem. American workers need to invest portions of their income into mutual funds to have economic security, thus becoming Worker Investors. Corporations are unconstrained and can dip into these funds to support their political spending. This paper outlines the Big 4’s political power in resolving the double legitimacy problem, and how their refusal is supporting policies that go against the Worker Investor.
- The New CEO Activists (Mike Toffel, HBR, 2018): This article outlines CEO activism and its influence, risks, and rewards. Authors reference research to assert that CEOs must strategically decide when and how to engage with social and political issues. The included playbook provides insight on how to go about engagement for positive impact. By raising awareness and leveraging economic power, CEOs can embrace transparency and accountability to their company values.
- Crony Capitalism: Unhealthy Relations Between Business and Government (CED, 2015): This report outlines the foundations of capitalism from Adam Smith’s lens, and contrasts it to the modern day public perception of capitalism. Mainly, this report asserts that cronyism has penetrated capitalism and, as a consequence, our economic system has negatively impacted our political scope and practices, creating negative outcomes for society. The report argues that by streamlining the political process to promote transparency and remove money’s influence, cronyism can be subdued.
- The Conference Board survey views on corporate political activity for 2022 (Conference Board, January 2022): Most government relations executives and managers of political action committees are anticipating that 2022 will be at least as challenging, if not more, than 2021. This article summarizes the various sentiments of private sector managers and executives regarding corporate political activity for the upcoming year.
- Regulating Corporate Political Engagement: Trends, Challenges and the Role for Investors (OECD/PRI, 2022): OECD and PRI’s report provides investors an understanding of five key challenges which prevent achieving responsible corporate political engagement. After analyzing each key challenge, the report outlines what information investors should seek when engaging with companies and policymakers, as well as how they can lead by example.
Analyses of how CPR would impact key issues, along with issue-specific tools to help address the given challenges and opportunities.
- Advocate, Align, Allocate: How To Execute a Science-Based Climate Policy Agenda (Climate Policy Leadership): A three-step framework for leaders looking to align their businesses with positive climate policy by: Advocating publically, Aligning with trade associations, and Allocating spending more proactively.
- U.S. Federal Climate Policy Priorities (Climate Policy Leadership): Authors of the Advocate, Align, Allocate framework provide a list of six U.S. climate policy priorities for 2021, which include the decarbonization of electricity and transportation as well as the advancement of nature based climate solutions.
- An Open Letter to America’s CEOs (Climate Policy Leadership): An open letter signed by the leaders of BSR, The Environmental Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others, advocating for businesses to adopt a five-step approach to aligning with the Paris Agreement and net zero initiatives while also integrating climate policy advocacy into their corporate climate activities.
- Seven Barriers to U.S. Business Leadership on Climate Policy and How to Break Them Down (World Resources Institute, June 2021): As companies face increased pressure to advocate publicly for robust climate policies, this WRI report outlines three internal and four external barriers, including org charts and quarterly reports as well as trade associations and political winds, that present the biggest hurdles to implementation, and suggests ways to overcome them.
- Addressing Trade Association Misalignment on Climate Policy (The B Team): This toolkit provides a step-by-step process for companies to understand the climate policies of the trade associations they belong to, and take action to better align them with science based targets.
- Blueprint for Responsible Policy Engagement on Climate Change (CERES, 2020): Offers concrete recommendations on how companies can establish systems that address climate change as a systemic risk and integrate this understanding into their direct and indirect lobbying on climate policies.
- To Save the Climate, We have to Reimagine Capitalism (Rebecca Henderson, TED, 2020): In this bold talk, Henderson describes how unchecked capitalism destabilizes the environment and harms human health — and makes the case for companies to step up and help fix the climate crisis they’re causing.
- The Climate Justice Playbook for Business (B Lab, 2021): The Playbook calls on the global business community to make a fundamental shift in mindset and behavior, to evolve from extractive and exploitative to regenerative and equity-driven – putting those who are most impacted by climate change at the forefront of developing solutions.
- Why policy should be part of your net-zero climate strategy (Heather Clancy, GreenBiz, 2021): Heather Clancy reveals the gap between advocacy and policy engagement when it concerns climate change. This article outlines existing assessments which determine companies’ alignment between advocacy and engagement, and emphasizes the need to engage in policy at the local, state, and federal levels, particularly in the technology industry because of their strong potential to make a real and measurable impact.
- Guide for Responsible Corporate Engagement in Climate Policy (WRI, 2013): This 60-page report elaborates on the “how” of engaging in meaningful climate policy engagement. Illustrative examples spanning the globe are grounded by five core elements of responsible policy engagement and three key actions to put said elements into practice.
Inclusion and Social Justice
- The Roots of Income Inequality (Jim Clifton, Gallup, 2019): Gallup’s principal economist, Jonathan Rothwell, summarizes his findings that income and wealth inequality have been driven by political economy and regulation, and that extreme inequality is driven by political power and not merit.
- Race and Equity Working Group (American Sustainable Business Council): The Council has developed a set of six principles for an inclusive and sustainable economy, aimed at achieving sustainability, diversity and representation through equal access to all forms of capital (social, financial, intellectual and natural). Six working groups focusing on issues such as election protection, community investment and investment responsibility have been stood up to achieve these principles.
- Dollars and sense: Corporate Responsibility in the Trump Era (Oxfam, 2018): Overview of where 70 major multinational corporations, across different sectors, put their lobbying money in terms of climate, justice, and taxes during the Trump era — and where there are contradictions. (See pg 21 for recommendations)
- Faster Growth, Fairer Growth (Niskanen Center): The authors of this report argue that regulatory capture, specifically in finance, health care and housing sectors, has created extensive roadblocks to achieving inclusive prosperity and advocate for a more dynamic high road economy built around equitable access to high quality services. (See pg 1-11)
- 2021 Porter Novelli Business & Social Justice Study (Porter Novelli, May 2021):After a pivotal year in which the role companies play in promoting social justice became clarified, a majority of Americans believe it is no longer acceptable for corporations to remain quiet on social issues, with many holding their personal employers to even higher standards
Strong Civic Institutions
- Fixing US Politics (Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter, Harvard Business Review, 2020): Founder of the Institute for Political Innovation and a Harvard Professor teamed up to identify the most powerful levers for transformation in American politics. Most notably, an increasing call from corporate leaders to reconsider frameworks that allow businesses to be entrenched in politics.
- The Business Case for Saving Democracy (Rebecca Henderson, Harvard Business Review, 2020) Henderson combines the public sentiment of distrust in corporate influence with evidence suggesting that free politics support free markets. She provides a strong case for businesses to fundamentally change their role from partisan players to supporters of the democratic process.
- 3 Actions CEOs Must Take to Uphold US Democracy (Paul Polman, Harvard Business Review, 2021): Paul Polman lays out the three necessary first steps businesses must take in corporate political responsibility reform: ending trade association lobbying, dissolving corporate PACS, and reversing citizens united and working on legislative reform.
- How Business Leaders Can Champion Democracy (Daniella Ballou-Aares and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan, Harvard Business Review, 2020): This analysis of the increasingly murky cross section between business and government identifies key strategic opportunities for businesses to champion positive change through reformed political participation. The closing “chapter” to the same HBR series opened by Rebecca Henderson – touches on themes and opportunities to make change.
- With the Georgia voting law, corporate activists face a problem of their own making (Mary Hunter McDonnell, Fortune, 2021) Shows how historical companies have been engaging in political activities as if on two separate fields – but they are now facing the tension head on.
- CPA Corporate Enablers Report (Center for Political Accountability, 2021): A comprehensive evaluation of corporations that gave significant amounts of money to politicians in key swing states that supported or introduced legislation aimed at voter suppression.
- Why is Governing No Longer Good Politics (FixUS, 2021): A survey of politicians with over 1,000 years of public service suggests that untamed corporate political spending, a polarizing 24/7 media cycle, and a tangled relationship between politicians and their constituents has de-emphasized the importance of good policy in politics.
Long-term Shareholder Value/Reimagining Capitalism
- Reinventing Capitalism: A Transformation Agenda (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2020): Highlights key factors required to refocus capitalism on long-term inclusive growth, including specific practices and policies that businesses should support. (See pg 5-13)
- Challenges of Sustaining Capitalism (Committee for Economic Development, 2016): Offers a historical context and diagnosis on the role of business and government interactions around current trends in inequality and distrust. Poses questions on how businesses might reframe their role to best participate in rebuilding trust and addressing inequality.
- The Business Role in Creating a 21st-Century Social Contract (Business for Social Responsibility, 2020): BSR’s report (71 pages in full, 9-page summary linked here) focuses on creating a new social contract in business, focused on ample collaboration between public and private entities, so that we can face future challenges at scale. This review highlights the opportunity areas specifically for businesses.
- Do managers have a role to play in sustaining the institutions of capitalism? (Rebecca Henderson and Karthik Ramanna, Brookings, 2016): Advocates for and examines the role of managers in weighing corporate political responsibility with traditional shareholder primacy when lobbying. Builds a strong case and suggests that companies consider whether the public is informed or has the necessary expertise.
- The Complicity of Corporate Sustainability (Auden Schendler, SSIR, 2021) A CSR veteran argues that historical approaches to corporate sustainability have undermined systemic change, and that the time has come to look at public policy aspects of solutions.
- Financial System Transformation (World Benchmarking Alliance, 2021): Deep analysis of how to incorporate CPR into financial institutions, with a benchmarking proposal to drive successful market signaling initiatives. (See pg 3-20)
- Corporate Political Spending is Bad Business (Leo E. Strine, Dorothy Lund, Harvard Business Review, January 2022): Strine and Lund argue that political spending hurts shareholder interests because it increases risks, is not transparent, and correlates with lower financial performance. They make the case that companies should either end all spending, obtain shareholder consent, or limit expenditures to PACs (which are strictly voluntary and have mandated disclosure).
Case Studies in CPR
Specific examples of companies making progress on CPR.
Case Studies in Corporate Political Responsibility
- Changes to Political Giving — Microsoft on the issues (Microsoft): Microsoft’s commitment to reducing political giving after the Capitol riots.
- Getting Corporate Cash Out of Politics (IBM): IBM has never given money to political candidates, but it hasn’t kept them from having a seat at the table. The company believes that the rampage on the Capitol has presented businesses with an opportunity to make a statement without money rather than with it.
Tools & Frameworks
Emerging approaches and general guidelines for putting CPR into practice.
Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce
- When Should Business Take a Stand (Financial Times): CPRT Director Elizabeth Doty and Erb Institute Faculty Director Tom Lyon talk with Financial Times about the intensifying pressure on companies to re-think their political involvements and develop integrated, proactive approaches to corporate political responsibility.
- Corporate Political Responsibility: What is business’ role in restoring trusted, well-functioning representative government? (Erb Institute Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce): Company leaders have multiple reasons for considering the CPRT and the Erb Principles, including new stakeholder pressures, new policy discussions, and new concerns about systemic risks. This short overview helps leaders frame a conversation with colleagues about how the Erb Principles and Taskforce programs may be useful to their firm.
- Elizabeth Doty on Companies Leading Social Change (Society for Human Resource Management, 2021): CPRT Director Elizabeth Doty talks about the increasing demand on companies to be leaders of social change through key commitments to disclosing political activities, investing in strong civic institutions, and being vocal advocates for systems-level change.
- Model Code of Conduct for Political Spending (Wharton / Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research): A 12-point model code intended to serve as a roadmap for companies committing to ethical behavior as they engage in political activity.
- Responsible Lobbying Framework (Responsible Lobbying): Provides a five-principle framework for responsible lobbying. Helpful for companies trying to orient themselves on their value/stance development in their corporate political activities as actions in the space come under increased scrutiny.
- When Should Your Company Speak Out On An Issue? (Paul Argenti, Harvard Business Review, 2020): Considers three critical questions companies must ask themselves when deciding to speak out or take a stance on an issue. Assessment is oriented around alignment, potential influence, and constituency agreement.
- Public Policy Reporting Standards (Global Sustainability Standards Board, 2016): A list of proposed standards for companies looking to implement sustainable practices into their public policy activities. It evaluates companies against their direct or indirect political contributions, assessing their impacts on the economy, the environment or society.
- Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism (World Economic Forum, 2020): A core set of 21 metrics created by the WEF, in partnership with a handful of multinational companies, to best align with the political, social and environmental considerations necessary for implementing stakeholder capitalism.
- Finding the Middle Ground in a Politically Polarized World (MIT Sloan Management Review, 2018): Presents a framework for when companies should present forceful or tempered political positions based on their publicly stated values and materiality.
- “POST-MAP-ASK” Towards a More Democratic, Modern Lobbying Process (New America Foundation, 2016): This report from the New America Foundation’s political reform program advocates for a voluntary public database that tracks the political positions and papers of advocacy groups, making it easier to track who is advocating for what when it comes to critical policy debates, demystifying the lobbying process.
- Lobbying for Good (Foundation for Public Affairs, 2021): Outlines a framework to help companies determine how to engage with social issues and an appropriate level of engagement—ranging from supporter to champion—describing the key to an effective engagement plan that integrates functional silos, all bolstered by compelling case studies.
- Net Positive Book & “Readiness Test” (Paul Polman, Andrew Winston, 2021): Introduces the concept of “net positive advocacy,” which involves working with partners to advocate for policy that supports systemic solutions and net positive outcomes for all competitors. This requires courage and a shift in mindset, but actually helps de-risk both sustainable business strategies AND political interactions for companies. Their Readiness Test tool provides a useful conversation starter about the change in mindset required.
- Principles for Political Engagement (Transparency International, 2018): A digestible set of guidelines for companies to consider when building a political engagement strategy. These guidelines cover the high level approach, as well as detailed practices such as political contributions, lobbying, trade association memberships, and the revolving door.
- A Board Member’s Guide to Corporate Political Spending (Constance E. Bagley, et al, Harvard Business Review, October 2015): Authors, who collectively represent the academic, private sector, governmental, and NGO arenas, share a framework for boards to utilize when making corporate political spending decisions so that their spending is consistent with company strategies, policies, and values. By pursuing this framework, companies can mitigate risks as much as possible.
- Social Transformation Framework: Responsible Lobbying & Political Engagement (World Benchmarking Alliance, 2021): This framework is developed through a multi-stakeholder process and designed to gauge company progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It provides succinct definitions for various core social indicators (CSIs), as well as a rubric to gauge company performance regarding these indicators. CSI 18 is their standard for responsible lobbying and political engagement, drawing from the Transparency International principles.
- GRI 415: Public Policy (Global Reporting Initiative, 2016): Summary of standards on public policy management approach and political contribution disclosures as is certified by the Global Reporting Initiative.
- OECD Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying (OECD, 2013): These principles are part of OECD’s directorate for public governance. The 10 principles focus on openness, transparency, integrity, and mechanisms for effective implementation and compliance. Principles are summarized across 3 volumes of reports available at the linked source.
- FutureFit BE22 Benchmarks (FutureFit Business, 2021): FutureFit builds on Natural Step definition of sustainability with a broad scientific review, providing a clear and simple definition of responsibility. The tool separates breakeven goals from positive pursuits, and provides specific terminology around future-fitness. This tool outlines how to strategize and set the ambition, action, assessment, assurance, and additional information across 23 benchmarks covering some of the most substantial ESG issues.
- Sustaining Democratic Institutions (CED, 2017): Committee for Economic Development shares best practices for both policymakers and business leaders. Their assessment of crony capitalism provided an outline of recommendations, explaining how private and public influential entities can support strong democratic elections, address money in politics, and decrease the impact of cronyism, with each recommendation rooted in transparency and accountability.
- The Investor Case for Responsible Political Engagement (PRI, 2022): PRI sets out to create the case for investors to encourage responsible corporate political engagement. PRI shares precedent-setting principles followed by detailing the risks faced from irresponsible political engagement practices (e.g. the revolving door), which burden companies, investors, and society alike.
- 4 ideas on how businesses can be responsible for political lobbying (Alberto Alemanno, WEF, 2022): Alemanno proposes four thought-provoking ideas as a means address insufficiencies in corporate political accountability. Alemanno proposes that companies have a ‘political due diligence’ to assess their democracy footprint. Solutions are detailed by focusing on disclosures, oversight, and political engagement with the stakeholder in mind.
- Corporate Civic Playbook (Civic Alliance, 2022): Civic Alliance assembled a robust playbook for companies to more representatively support a strong democracy. The playbook includes concepts to support one’s business case, questions to ask oneself in building an action plan, and concrete steps to better engage employees, consumers, and other stakeholders.
- CPR: Political Sustainability Needs Corporate Action (CPR Community Platform, hosted by Bohnen Public Affairs, 2023): Argues that business success depends on political conditions and democratic institutions, and that businesses need to be more strategic about CPR due to 1) gaps in state capacity, 2) rising authoritarian threats, and 3) shifting customer and stakeholder expectations.