Sustainable Commitments?

From The Practice January/February 2022
Highlighting key stories about the profession you may have missed

In the wake of the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, several large companies made public statements that they would pause donations to those who voted to nullify the results of the 2020 election. While some companies maintained their pauses (and even asked for donations back), many others privately and quietly resumed making political donations as early as June 2021, reported the Boston Globe. The Globe based its report on information from Accountable.US, a nonprofit watchdog group. Indeed, in January 2022 Accountable.US released a report assessing 20 Fortune 500 companies and industry trade groups that had previously committed to reassessing their political giving and had since resumed such donations after the first quarter of 2021. Along similar lines, in January 2022, Bloomberg, reporting on a survey by the Conference Board and the National Association of Business Political Action Committees, noted that “more than 75% of corporate PACs [political action committees] that paused political donations in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last year resumed giving during 2021.”

Interestingly, the Conference Board and the National Association of Business Political Action Committees also probed what was driving companies and PACs to take public stands on election-related issues from the get-go. According to the data:

“Almost 52% said the actions were driven by senior management’s views, compared to 44% by the CEO’s views and only 32% by PAC contributors’ views; 46% indicated as a reason that a ‘stable democracy is necessary for a stable business environment,’ compared to 25% indicating democracy alone as a reason; and almost 45% cited concerns about company reputation, followed by concerns about company constituencies, such as employees (34%), customers (21%) and investors (17%).”

The article goes on to note that, going into 2022, over three-quarters of respondents expected continued pressure for their organizations to take positions on social and political issues—including from employees who may or may not agree with or wish companies to take political stances. Why does any of this matter to lawyers? At the bare minimum, all these issues are increasingly finding their way to the desks of general counsel who must contend with accountability in a complex regulatory climate. (For more on the general counsel and corporate giving, see “Speaking Out on Election Integrity.”) In some instances, lawyers are also the employees urging their company or firm to take a stance on such political or social issues. And taking it one step farther, U.S. lawyers, by virtue of the oaths they take, have professional commitments to the Constitution and the democratic process as they consider election ramifications.

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