American Express – Lobbying Disclosure (2015)
Whereas, we believe it is important that American Express’s lobbying positions, and processes to influence public policy, are transparent. Public opinion is skeptical of corporate influence on Congress and public policy and controversial lobbying activity may pose risks to our company’s reputation.
American Express does disclose political spending contributions but in contrast, lobbying disclosure is limited. American Express spent over $9 million between 2010 and 2014 on federal lobbying, according to Senate reports. But this figure may not include grassroots lobbying to influence legislation by mobilizing public support or opposition to a specific bill and does not include lobbying expenditures to influence legislation in states or indirect spending through third-parties.
Resolved, the shareholders of American Express (“Amex”) request the Board authorize the preparation of a report, updated annually, and disclosing:
1. Company policy and procedures governing lobbying, both direct and indirect, and grassroots lobbying communications.
2. Payments by Amex used for (a) direct or indirect lobbying or (b) grassroots lobbying communications, in each case including the amount of the payment and the recipient.
3. Amex’s membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation.
4. Description of the decision making process and oversight by management and the Board for making payments described in sections 2 and 3 above.
For purposes of this proposal, a “grassroots lobbying communication” is a communication directed to the general public that (a) refers to specific legislation or regulation, (b) reflects a view on the legislation or regulation and (c) encourages the recipient of the communication to take action with respect to the legislation or regulation. “Indirect lobbying” is lobbying engaged in by a trade association or other organization of which Amex is a member.
Both “direct and indirect lobbying” and “grassroots lobbying communications” include efforts at the local, state and federal levels.
The report should be presented to the Audit and/or Governance Committee and posted on Amex’s website.
We encourage transparency about the ways corporate funds influence legislation and regulation, directly and indirectly.
At present Amex does not disclose its payments to trade associations or the percentage they used for lobbying. Amex does disclose its non-deductible trade association payments under Section 162(e)(1)(B) of the Internal Revenue Code which applies to political contributions. But our company is not fully disclosing payments used for lobbying (which are non-deductible under Section 162(e)(1)(A)). This leaves a serious disclosure gap, as trade associations generally spend far more on lobbying than on political contributions.
For example, the Chamber of Commerce spent over $1 billion in lobbying since 1998, yet Amex’s level of funding of the Chamber is secret.
The Chamber has also sued the EPA for its policies and regulations combating climate change. In contrast, Amex has a strong commitment to protecting the environment.
In summary, we urge Amex to provide comprehensive disclosure of its lobbying activities.