The Center for Political Accountability is an organization that seeks to have companies disclose their political contributions and spending. It is a pressure group that works through shareholder resolutions and public relations campaigns to force its views on companies. Critics argue that its attempts to force disclosure serve the purpose of censoring and silencing speech.1
The Center for Political Accountability was founded in 2003. It believes that corporate spending is the largest amount of political spending and that it is often shadowy in nature. It holds that companies try to hide what kind of political speech they pay for. In 2011, the Center began publishing the CPA-Zicklin Index on Corporate Political Disclosure which is a guide to the political spending of various corporations. The index is criticized as a tool for silencing and censoring speech, with critics alleging that the index is a tool of labor unions and seeks to silence the voice of businesses.2
The Center files shareholder resolutions and working in the media to pressure companies into revealing extensive information about their political and policy interests. It publishes the CPA-Zicklin Index on Corporate Political Disclosure in order to place more pressure on companies to disclose their political spending.
Observers speculate that the disclosures are intended to silence non-liberal political speech. Former FEC Chairman Brad Smith (R) and Center For Competitive Politics Research Fellow Scott Blackburn compare the center to a gangster trying to shakedown a business for protection money. They write:
You’ve seen how it works in gangster movies: “Fine business you have here. It’d be a shame if there were protesters in front of your stores this Christmas …” Meanwhile, they casually display the picket signs that are already printed. Of course, nothing is said explicitly. CPA emphasizes that this is just “good corporate citizenship” and that CEOs should go along with the crowd. But in the movies, the gangster doesn’t need to explicitly tell the store owner what will happen if he doesn’t cough up the protection money. 3
In addition, the Index on Corporate Political Disclosure has been criticized for constantly changing metrics. For example between 2011 to 2012, the metrics were changed in relation to donating to 527 groups and 501(c)4. Finally, the index and the actions of the Center have been criticized as not having actual support among investors.4
In 2014, the Center raised $383,000 and spent $471,837. It did not make grants to other organizations. Of the amount spent, it spent $239,161 on encouraging companies to disclose their political donations. The organization also has a $290,044 loan given to it by its president, Bruce Freed, in order to keep the organization afloat. 5
The Center boasts of year-to-year increases in number of political disclosures by corporations; however, the number of S&P 500 companies that disclosed at least some of their election-related spending decreased from 305 in 2016 to 295 in 2017.6 7
The Center does not disclose any money received from foundations or other big donors.
Bruce Freed, a former Democratic Congressional staffer who seved as a former Chief Investigator on the Senate Banking Committee, serves as the president of the center. Karl Sandstrom serves as the center’s counsel. Nanyamka Springer serves as the vice president of programs and is responsible for the CPA-Zicklin Index.
John Milton Cooper Jr. serves as chairman of the board of directors. Shelly Alpern serves as the board’s secretary and Charles E.M. Kolb serves as the center’s treasurer. Among the board members is Morris Pearl, the chair of Patriotic Millionaires, which advocates for tax increases and other liberal economic policies.
- “CPA-Zicklin Index Is Really A Tool To Silence The Business Community”. U.S. Chamber Of Commerce. 2017. Accessed August 4 2017. https://www.uschamber.com/above-the-fold/cpa-zicklin-index-really-tool-silence-the-business-community.
- Smith, Brad. 2016. “New Year, Same Story: 2016 CPA-Zicklin Index Chills Speech”. Center For Competitive Politics. Accessed August 21 2017. http://www.campaignfreedom.org/2016/10/03/new-year-same-story-2016-cpa-zicklin-index-chills-speech/.
- “Progressive Activists Attempt To Silence The Business Community | Myths Vs. Facts”. 2017. Proxyfacts.Org. Accessed August 4 2017. http://www.proxyfacts.org/progressive-activists-attempt-to-silence-the-business-community/.
- “ICYMI: 5 Facts The Center For Political Accountability Does Not Want You To Know”. 2013. Center For Competitive Politics. Accessed August 4 2017. http://www.campaignfreedom.org/2013/09/25/icymi-5-facts-the-center-for-political-accountability-does-not-want-you-to-know/.
- 2017. Pdfs.Citizenaudit.Org. Accessed August 4 2017. http://pdfs.citizenaudit.org/2015_12_EO/20-0385691_990_201412.pdf.
- Parks, Zachary G. “Is Corporate Political Disclosure Leveling Off? Crunching the Latest CPA-Zicklin Numbers.” The National Law Review. September 27, 2017. https://www.natlawreview.com/article/corporate-political-disclosure-leveling-crunching-latest-cpa-zicklin-numbers.
- “More than 80 Nuclear Nonproliferation Experts Reaffirm Support for the Iran Nuclear Deal.” Arms Control Association. September 13, 2017. Accessed November 8, 2017. https://www.armscontrol.org/pressroom/2017-iran-deal-experts-statement.