Shareholder-Authorized Corporate Political Spending in the United Kingdom

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy & Kathy Fogel, Shareholder-Authorized Corporate Political Spending in the United Kingdom, 46 U.S.F. L. Rev. 479 (2012).

Abstract:  The U.S. is facing the advent of unfettered corporate political expenditures as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. This decision sets precedence to allow publicly-traded corporations to use vast amounts of corporate treasury money to fund political advertisements in federal election campaigns without any sort of disclosure or shareholder consent. Similar policy concerns have been addressed by U.K. laws in 2000. In this paper, we present evidence on the effect of the 2000 and 2006 Amendments to Companies Act of the United Kingdom that provide shareholders with the ability to consent or object to future corporate political spending and a new dual disclosure system that requires companies to report political spending to shareholders in annual reports, while the political parties to report the source of their funding to the voting public through the Electoral Commission.

We obtain data on management proposals requesting shareholder voting on future corporate political expenditure by Britain’s publicly traded companies and the actual corporate political spending. We show that the U.K. Companies Act has not acted as a ban on corporate political spending. To the contrary, companies that seek approval of political budgets nearly always get them approved by shareholders. However, the political budgets that are sought by managers and approved by shareholders are typically modest – ranging from £50,000 to £100,000. In addition, actual corporate political spending for publicly-traded companies in the U.K. is far below the overall shareholder-authorized amounts. Lastly, our data reveal that since the 2000 Amendments, political spending appears to have migrated from publicly-traded companies to privately-held companies in the past decade.

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