News Column

Shareholders pushing PPL to disclose political spending

May 20, 2014

By Sam Kennedy, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)



May 20--The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling proved to be one its most controversial in recent memory: It opened the door -- or floodgates, critics say -- to unrestricted corporate influence on the democratic process.

Now, a group of PPL Corp. shareholders is hoping to mitigate the decision's impact with a proposal that would require the Allentown company to disclose its campaign contributions and other political spending.

Specifically, the proposal would require PPL to publish on its website a semiannual report accounting for the company's expenditures, including the amounts, recipients and authorizing PPL officials.

"Long-term shareholders of PPL support transparency and accountability in corporate spending on political activities," reads the proposal, which was put forth by the Office of the Comptroller of New York City, as the custodian and trustee of various municipal retirement and pension programs.

"Gaps in transparency and accountability may expose the company to reputational and business risks that could threaten long-term shareholder value," the proposal continues. "The company's board and its shareholders need comprehensive disclosure to be able to fully evaluate the political use of corporate assets."

PPL will wrap up voting on the measure and announce the results at its annual meeting Wednesday in Derby, England.

By equating corporate political spending to individuals' free speech, Citizens United freed corporations, unions and the very wealthy to spend unlimited sums independently on election campaigns. The ruling led to the creation of super PACs, which can collect millions of dollars from undisclosed donors to fund campaign ads.

Under pressure from shareholders, a number of big U.S. corporations, such as Exelon, Noble Energy and PG&E, have adopted disclosure requirements of their own.

PPL's board of directors, however, is opposed to the proposal, describing it as "duplicative and unnecessary."

"PPL reports all corporate lobbying-related activities and expenditures to appropriate state and federal agencies," the board said in PPL's proxy statement. "Information on PPL's current lobbying activities can be found in lobbying reports filed with various state and federal agencies."

Moreover, the board said, "the expanded disclosure requested in this proposal could place the company at a competitive disadvantage by revealing its strategies and priorities... and would cause PPL to incur undue cost and administrative burden."

A similar proposal was on the shareholder ballot last year. It was voted down.

PPL's annual meeting will convene in Derby, England at 2 p.m. local time -- or 9 a.m. here.

For shareholders who do not attend the meeting, a "Listen to Annual Meeting" button will be available on the Investors section of PPL's website.

skennedy@mcall.com

610-820-6130

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Source: Morning Call (Allentown, PA)


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