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“Where There’s Smoke, There’s Money”: Tobacco Giant Reynolds American Inc Funded Conservative Nonprofits

Tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. last year helped fund several of the nation’s most politically active — and secretive — nonprofit organizations, according to a company document reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

Reynolds American’s contributions include $175,000 to Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit led by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and $50,000 to Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy outfit heavily backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The tobacco company’s donations are just a fraction of the nearly $50 million that those two groups reported spending on political advocacy ads during the 2012 election cycle, almost exclusively on negative advertising. Federal records show that Americans for Prosperity alone sponsored more than $33 million in attack ads that directly targeted President Barack Obama.

But the money, which Reynolds American says it disclosed in a corporate governance document at the behest of an unnamed shareholder, provides rare insight into how some of the most powerful politically active 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits are bankrolled.

Reynolds American is the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, which makes Camel and Winston brand cigarettes.

“The shareholder specifically requested that we disclose information about 501(c)(4)s, and in the interests of greater transparency, we agreed,” Reynolds American spokeswoman Jane Seccombe said.

Large corporations — tobacco companies or otherwise — almost never release information about their giving to such groups, and it’s most unusual for the groups themselves to voluntarily disclose who donates to them.

These groups, which obtain their nonprofit status because they say their “primary purpose” is not political activity, are generally under no legal obligation to detail their funding sources. Super PACs and other recognized political committees, by contrast, must report the names of their contributors who give more than $200 and the amounts they give.

Yet during the 2012 election cycle, various social welfare nonprofit organizations, emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in January 2010, spent more than $250 million to promote or attack federal political candidates, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The source of most of that money remains a mystery.

Reynolds American’s other contributions last year to 501(c)(4) groups include $100,000 to the Partnership for Ohio’s Future, an organization run by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce that spent several million dollars in a failed 2012 ballot initiative campaign to uphold a law limiting public workers’ collective bargaining rights. It also gave $12,500 to the National Taxpayers Union, a 501(c)(4) group that backed Republican candidates last year with modest expenditures.

Ohio Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Linda Woggon told the Center for Public Integrity she wasn’t aware that Reynolds American planned to disclose its donation to Partnership for Ohio’s Future.

But Woggon said she did not have a problem with officials there doing so, adding that “the decision is up to the company.”

Americans for Prosperity, which in 2011 reported to the IRS it received more than $25.4 million in contributions and grants, “leaves it up to our supporters” to decide whether to reveal their donations,” spokesman Levi Russell said.

“It’s their right, and we respect it,” he said.

Officials at Americans for Tax Reform, which in 2011 reported to the IRS that it received nearly $4 million in contributions and grants, did not reply to several requests for comment.

Within the tobacco industry, Reynolds American competitor Lorillard, which manufactures Newport brand cigarettes, has no nonprofit donation disclosure policy in place.

Ronald Whitford, the company’s associate general counsel, said Lorillard “could look at possibly enhancing disclosure in the future.”

Altria, the world’s largest tobacco company, does make contributions to politically active nonprofit organizations, spokesman Bill Phelps said — but he would not name any beneficiaries.

Altria’s corporate policy only requires it disclose its contributions to 501(c)(4) nonprofits in narrow circumstances, none of which applied to its 2012 donations, Phelps said.

For example, Altria, which makes Marlboros, the top-selling cigarettes, would publicly disclose a contribution if a nonprofit used at least $50,000 specifically for “political activities” as defined by the Internal Revenue Service — but only if the nonprofit informed Altria of this fact.

The IRS considers political activity to be the “participation in, or intervention in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

Therefore, by its own rules, Altria would not disclose contributions that a 501(c)(4) used to fund so-called “issue advertisements” that are sometimes barely distinguishable from ads that directly advocate for or against a politician.

Politically active nonprofit groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS, which was co-founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, together spent millions of dollars on these kinds of communications last year.

Reynolds American’s written corporate policy on nonprofit donation disclosure is similar to that of Altria. But the policy “represents the minimum disclosure threshold,” said Seccombe, the company spokeswoman.

Reynolds American specifically acknowledged its donation to Americans for Tax Reform “because of expected stakeholder interest, not because the contributions were intended to be used or were in fact used for ‘political activity’ as that term is meant for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code,” Seccombe added.

She declined to speculate on which 501(c)(4) organizations Reynolds American will donate to this year. But officials will release information on its 2013 donations early next year, she said.

The company’s actions, although limited and hardly in real time, “set a precedent” and are “to be commended,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, which tracks and advocates for political transparency by corporations.

“We just haven’t seen this with other companies related to their giving to (c)(4)’s,” Freed said.

 

By: David Levinthal, The Center for Public Integrity, May 31, 2013

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Executive Pay: We Knew They Got Raises. But This?

It turns out that the good times are even better than we thought for American chief executives.

Among the executives who registered huge gains in the value of their company stock and options in 2010 were Warren E. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, top, Lawrence J. Ellison of Oracle, center, and Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.com. Together, the three men’s holdings climbed by more than $13 billion for the year.

A preliminary examination of executive pay in 2010, based on data available as of April 1, found that the paychecks for top American executives were growing again, after shrinking during the 2008-9 recession.

But that study, conducted for The New York Times by Equilar, an executive compensation data firm based in Redwood City, Calif., was just an early snapshot, and there were even more riches to come. Some big companies had not yet disclosed their executive compensation.

So Sunday Business asked Equilar to run the numbers again.

Brace yourself.

The final figures show that the median pay for top executives at 200 big companies last year was $10.8 million. That works out to a 23 percent gain from 2009. The earlier study had put the median pay at a none-too-shabby $9.6 million, up 12 percent.

Total C.E.O. pay hasn’t quite returned to its heady, prerecession levels — but it certainly seems headed there. Despite the soft economy, weak home prices and persistently high unemployment, some top executives are already making more than they were before the economy soured.

Pay skyrocketed last year because many companies brought back cash bonuses, says Aaron Boyd, head of research at Equilar. Cash bonuses, as opposed to those awarded in stock options, jumped by an astounding 38 percent, the final numbers show.

Granted, many American corporations did well last year. Profits were up substantially. As a result, many companies are sharing the wealth, at least with their executives. “We’re seeing a lot of that reflected in the pay,” Mr. Boyd says.

And at a time of so much tumult in the media business, it might be surprising that some executives in media and communications were among the most richly rewarded last year.

The preliminary and final studies put Philippe P. Dauman, the chief executive of Viacom, at the top of the list. Mr. Dauman made $84.5 million last year, after signing a new long-term contract that included one-time stock awards.

Leslie Moonves, of the CBS Corporation, got a 32 percent raise and reaped $56.9 million. Michael White of DirecTV was paid $32.9 million, while Brian L. Roberts of the Comcast Corporation and Robert A. Iger of the Walt Disney Company each received pay packages valued at $28 million.

“Media firms seemed to be paying a lot,” said Carol Bowie, head of compensation policy development at ISS Governance, which advises large investors on corporate governance issues like proxy votes. “Media companies in general tend to be high-payers, and they tend to feed off each other.”

Other big payers included oil and commodities companies like Exxon Mobil and a few technology giants like Oracle and I.B.M.

Some of the other highly paid executives on the new list who were not in the April survey are Gregg W. Steinhafel of Target, who had a $23.5 million pay package; Michael E. Szymanczyk of Altria, $20.77 million; and Richard C. Adkerson of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, $35.3 million.

Most ordinary Americans aren’t getting raises anywhere close to those of these chief executives. Many aren’t getting raises at all — or even regular paychecks. Unemployment is still stuck at more than 9 percent.

In some ways, chief executives seem to live in a world apart when it comes to pay. As long as shareholders think that the top brass is doing a good job, executives tend to be well paid, whatever the state of the broader economy. And some corporate boards were probably particularly generous in 2010 after a few relatively lean years for their top executives. In other words, some of this was makeup pay.

“What is of more concern to shareholders is that it looks like C.E.O. pay is recovering faster than company fortunes,” says Paul Hodgson, chief communications officer for GovernanceMetrics International, a ratings and research firm.

According to a report released by GovernanceMetrics in June, the good times for chief executives just keep getting better. Many executives received stock options that were granted in 2008 and 2009, when the stock market was sinking.

Now that the market has recovered from its lows of the financial crisis, many executives are sitting on windfall profits, at least on paper. In addition, cash bonuses for the highest-paid C.E.O.’s are at three times prerecession levels, the report said.

Of course, these sorts of pay figures invariably push the buttons of many ordinary Americans. Yes, workers’ 401(k)’s are looking better than they did in some recent years, but many investors still have not recovered from the hit they took during the financial crisis. And, of course, millions are out of work or trying to hold on to their homes — or both.

And it’s not as if most workers are getting fat raises. The average American worker was taking home $752 a week in late 2010, up a mere 0.5 percent from a year earlier. After inflation, workers were actually making less.

On the flip side, some chief executives have consistently taken token salaries — sometimes, $1 — choosing instead to rely on their ownership stakes for wealth. These stock riches don’t show up on the current pay lists, but they can be huge.

Warren E. Buffett, for instance, saw his stock holdings rise last year by 16 percent, to $46 billion. Other longtime chief executives or founders who are sitting on billions of paper profits include Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.com and Michael S. Dell, the founder of Dell.

Resurgent executive pay has some corporate watchdogs worried that companies have already forgotten the lessons of the bust. Boards have promised to tie executive pay to company success, but by some measures pay is rising faster than performance. The median pay raise for chief executives last year — 23 percent — was roughly in line with the increase in net corporate profits. But it far exceeded the median gain in shareholders’ total return, which was 16 percent, as well as the median gain in revenue, which was 7 percent.

FOR the moment, shareholders aren’t storming executive suites. And while they received a say on pay under new federal rules last year, their votes are nonbinding. In other words, boards can still do as they please.

Pay specialists say companies are taking a hard look at these votes. Still, only about 1.5 percent of the 200 companies in the Equilar study were rebuffed by their shareholders on pay. A vast majority of the votes passed overwhelmingly, with 80 percent or 90 percent support, according to Mr. Boyd of Equilar.

Mr. Boyd says companies are making an effort to explain their pay plans. “We saw companies take it very seriously,” he says of the new rule.

In some respects, the mere possibility that shareholders might reject a proposed pay plan is enough to make corporate executives think again. Ms. Bowie of ISS says that outrageous payouts — such as so-called tax gross-ups, in which companies cover executives’ tax bills on perks like corporate jets — are becoming rarer.

Disney for instance, eliminated tax gross-ups this year in the face of shareholder ire, she said.

Company directors have the power to rein in runaway executive pay, but it is unclear whether either they or shareholders will do so in 2012. “It can be done if there is the will,” Ms. Bowie says.

By: Pradnya Joshi, The New York Times, July 2, 2011

July 4, 2011 Posted by | Big Business, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Equal Rights, GOP, Media, Middle Class, Minimum Wage, Politics, Republicans, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Unemployed, Unemployment, Wall Street, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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