Thursday, February 28, 2013

Negative Link Between Campaign Donations & Shareholder Value

The reason many in business and government are skeptical of research is that many of them use “pimped opinion” as a substitute, and so they find it hard not to assume everyone else does.  Especially lobbyists.

Part of content curation such as I do with this blog and that I practiced during my now-concluded 40-year career as a community-destination marketing (DM) exec is to look carefully behind a study to make certain it was produced and vetted by experts and if possible peer reviewed.

Of particular concern are so-called white papers often promoted by partisan think-tanks where even more careful scrutiny is always warranted.

The DMO in my adopted home of Durham, North Carolinas has earned a reputation for objective analysis based on sound data.  This should never be taken for granted.  It can be lost in heartbeat if not deeply entrenched in organizational culture and governance and insulated from anecdotal whimsy.

Last November, purposely held I assume until after the election, an excellent peer-reviewed study was published by Harvard law professor John C. Coates who specializes in corporate law and governance (shown in this blog.)

His study found “in most industries, political activity correlates negatively with measures of shareholder power, positively with signs of agency costs, and negatively with shareholder value.”

The exceptions are businesses such as outdoor billboard companies, where any value is wholly reliant on governmental decisions and regulations regarding tax payer-funded roadways and other government-dependent industries such as defense or those heavily regulated in the public interest such as utilities.

If the failure of massive injections of anonymous corporate donations into the election process wasn’t enough to confirm that these dollars were an unwise wise investment, Coates’ data added an emphatic exclamation point.

Highly threatened, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (not to be confused in any way with local chambers of commerce) immediately dusted off a long-discredited white paper that had never been peer-reviewed and was produced by non other than a lobbyist.

Unfortunately for too many casual observers, this meant “touché, all over again” and a “tie goes to the runner,” right?  Fortunately, Professor Coates opened up with both barrels in a letter this month to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Coates’ findings undermine a pivotal assumption by the Supreme Court in Citizens United.  Hopefully, SCOTUS justices have time to read and not just write.  Regardless, the Coates study should be required reading for corporate shareholders and all C-suite executives.

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