Allison Herren Lee and Bruce Freed oped in Forbes:
When the Cleveland Browns removed the scandal-tarnished name of FirstEnergy from their football stadium, it symbolized how far the Ohio utility’s good reputation had fallen. The name change followed guilty verdicts returned for Ohio’s former House speaker and former GOP state chair in a bribery-and-racketeering scheme fueled with almost $61 million from FirstEnergy. The company has admitted that it bribed state officials and relied on untraceable dark money to do it, in seeking a bailout for two failing nuclear plants.
FirstEnergy is the poster child of the risks and harms a company faces from failing to oversee and monitor its political spending. But corruption charges are infrequent; in today’s hyperpolarized climate, more companies run into problems when their political spending winds up in perceived conflict with their public stances. Just ask the blue-chip companies recently facing controversy over money funneled to legislators who upheld an abortion ban in North Carolina.
Corporations increasingly face risk from their political spending, and that risk is heightened when they have not charted where funds will actually go. When political spending is funneled through “dark money” groups used by candidates and officeholders or through third-party groups such as trade organizations or non-profit partisan groups, corporations (and their shareholders) often don’t know how their money will actually be spent. When discovered and spotlighted, such contributions can ultimately associate a company with controversial political figures, positions contrary to core company values and interests, or corruption.
There are proactive steps companies can and should take to mitigate the risk….