An Absence of Transparency: The Charitable and Political Contributions of US Corporations

Journal of Business Ethics 155 (4):1101-1113 (2019)
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Abstract

Although stockholders may benefit from information regarding the frequently substantial charitable and political contributions of the corporations they own, US corporations are typically not required to disclose any information about such payments in annual financial statements or information submitted periodically to regulatory agencies. This lack of transparency is confounded by disclosure requirements of private foundations, which a corporation may choose to establish for the purposes of administering charitable giving for the corporation. The resulting disclosure fog engendered by extant regulations may be confusing to those corporation owners who would like to know what corporation contributions are being made to charities and politicians. This article enumerates the magnitude of the charitable and political gifts of 40 of the most generous public corporations in the USA, the current disclosure requirements for public companies, the role of foundations, rationales for withholding relevant information from owners, and ethically questionable strategies that corporations may use to manage those disclosures for their benefit.

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