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Politics
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Corporate Money And Politics: Which Companies Are Most Transparent?

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Courtesy of the the Center for Political Accountability and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research

The amount of corporate money pumped into politics has surged in the four years since the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case.

A new report, released Wednesday, examines how transparent the 300 largest public companies in America are about how much they give to political groups and where that money goes.

And some Charlotte area companies are ranked on the list.

This is an annual survey of companies you likely know and whose products and services you certainly buy.

It’s put together by the Center for Political Accountability and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, which is part of the Wharton School of Business. "At a glance you can effectively see whether a company is politically transparent or not so politically transparent," says Dave Levinthal, senior political reporter at the non-profit Center for Public Integrity, "in terms of what they’re volunteering about the way they engage in politics, elections, lobbying and so on and so forth." Levinthal was given early access to the report.

No one knows exactly how much corporate money is being poured into elections, since donors to certain non-profit groups are allowed to be kept secret. But, says Levinthal, "Some corporations voluntarily give this information out. And say yes, we make donations to this non-profit organization or that non-profit organization. It’s up to them."

That’s one of the 24 areas this study focuses on. It then ranks the companies on a custom transparency scale from zero to 100 percent. Levinthal says if you get a score of zero, you are effectively giving the public "no ability to find any more information about your political activity than you have to give by law."

Mooresville-based Lowes ranks dead last in the survey with a score of zero, joining 20 other companies.

Among other Charlotte area companies on the list: Wells Fargo and Bank of America are rated in the top half. Duke Energy and steel company Nucor are near the bottom.

Overall, railroad giant CSX and oil producer Noble Energy rank at the top of the list.

This study has been criticized in the past by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups that point out even those with a zero rating are still complying with the applicable laws.

Overall, however, the study finds at least some level of voluntary political transparency growing in popularity among corporations.