Give and Tell

Public companies should be legally required to tell shareholders what charities the corporations support and how much is given to each, says Rep. Paul Gillmor, an Ohio Republican."Shareholders have a right to know where their major contributions go because it is their money," says Mr. Gillmor, who has introduced a bill in Congress to force companies to reveal that information. "A lot of corporations make that information available to shareholders. But there are a lot of companies that are very secretive about it and don't want their shareholders to know who they're giving their money to."The Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal agency that monitors corporate transactions, is studying the feasibility of Representative Gillmor's proposal, and is expected to release a report on it this month.The commission is also studying a companion bill introduced by Mr. Gillmor, that would require public companies to give shareholders a major say in deciding which charities receive corporate contributions.Under current law, corporations that make charitable contributions out of their own pockets do not have to disclose anything about those gifts to shareholders. Companies that make gifts through private foundations already must list the recipient and amount of each grant on their federal informational tax returns, which they must make available to the public for 180 days after they publish a notice that they have filed the form with the Internal Revenue Service.A Chronicle survey of the top 20 companies on Fortune magazine's list of the 500 biggest companies found that only two -- Chevron and Citicorp -- now routinely provide all shareholders with copies of their giving reports. Ten others, however, say they will give such reports to any shareholder who asks for them. Three of the companies never release details about the gifts they have made.Paperwork Not IntendedRepresentative Gillmor says that his bill is not intended to create mountains of paperwork for companies. "They don't have to compile new records," he says. "There isn't a company that makes a charitable donation that doesn't have a record of who they gave to and how much."Mr. Gillmor says his legislation is not intended to require companies to report small gifts. He expects that the would eventually set a dollar threshold."General Motors isn't going to have to report giving $100 to the Plymouth, Mich., Girl Scouts," he says. "The idea is to have reasonable disclosure of major gifts."Charity and corporate officials have greeted Mr. Gillmor's proposal requiring disclosure with mixed reactions.Some non-profit groups say that companies have become increasingly secretive about their giving in recent years and that they need to be forced to make more information public.Craig Smith, a senior fellow at the Conference Board, a New York organization that represents companies and conducts research on business issues, says a sign of the increased desire to keep corporate giving confidential can be seen in the long-term decline in the number of companies that complete the Conference Board's surveys on giving."Not only do some companies disclose less, they disclose what they want to, so you get comparisons between apples and oranges," Mr. Smith says. "Some companies have always fudged the numbers to make themselves look more generous. Or if they were decreasing their giving, they have little techniques to hide that."Requiring uniform public disclosure would "be helpful to everybody, except to stingy companies," Mr. Smith says. "It could be a terrific boon for corporate contributions."But many company executives say it would be burdensome and expensive to have to round up their contribution data and publish it in whatever form might be required by a new law.Some worry that, depending on how any disclosure law would be implemented, they might have to compile lengthy and complicated lists of donations that they make to match employee gifts to charity. Texacoco inc/gw officials think the Congressman's legislation would "create a burdensome regulatory layer that is not needed," says Keelin V.Molloy, external-communications coordinator at the company. Texaco already issues press releases that describe the company's major gifts, she says. General Motors currently gets "very, very few requests" from shareholders for information about the company's charitable gifts and would have to spend more on administrative costs to comply with the Congressional proposal, says Thomas E. Kimble, vice-chairman of the General Motors Foundation."The paperwork is already massive in a corporation, and I'd hate to see anything pass Congress that would add to that," says William E. Simon, the former Treasury Secretary who is president of the John M. Olin Foundation.Support From ActivistsRepresentative Gillmor's measure has drawn support from numerous public-interest groups."Shareholders are the owners of these companies, and companies are working off their money. That concept has gradually gotten lost during this century," says Joan Bavaria, co-chair of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies, which encourages companies to take actions that preserve the environment.Charitable-contribution data is vital to understanding a company's behavior, says Ms. Bavaria."For those of us who are trying to get a sense of the total ecology of a company," she says, "one very important piece is where it chooses to donate money."When provided with such information, says Ms. Bavaria, "you occasionally find that companies are donating money to groups that have contradictory goals, or to groups that basically are working in a way that collides with some of the companies' public statements around their environmental or other efforts."Representative Gillmor says putting corporate gifts in the public spotlight would help insure that companies avoided conflicts of interest in their donations."If a company president's wife is a Hula Hoop dancer and his company gives $1-million to the Hula Hoop Foundation, he may not want people to know about that, because the gift is not in the interest of the company unless it happens to make Hula Hoops," says Mr. Gillmor.A mandatory disclosure law would make company officials think twice about making irresponsible or improper gifts, he says.The Congressman insists that his bills do not reflect any hostility on his part toward company donors. "A corporation with a philosophy that the more fortunate among us have an obligation to help out the less fortunate should be commended and encouraged," he says."My proposals in no way inhibit charitable contributions. They only serve to increase accountability of people's money."Sidebar OneWhat America's Biggest Companies Disclose About Their Charitable GivingA) Disclosure of Corporate GiftsB)Does Company routinely give that information to shareholders?C)Disclosure of grants made by corporate foundationD)Does the company routinely give that information to shareholders?General MotorsA)Annual philanthropic report provides total amount given to charity and amount given for each type of cause but does not name recipients.B)No, report available by request.C)General Motors Foundation: Annual report provides total given for each type of cause and names some recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.Ford Motor CompanyA)Press releases provide names of some charities receiving grants.B)No report.C)Ford Motor Company: Annual report provides total amount given to charity by cause and names some recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.Exxon CoporationA)Annual philanthropic report provide total amount given to charity and names organizations that are given $5,000 and more, with grant amountsB)No, report available by request.C)Exxon Education Foundation: Annual report provides total amount given to charity and names all charities that are given grants, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.Wal-Mart StoresA)Starting in 1997, annual philanthropic report provides total amount given to charity and names some recipients; anyone can call individual stores for amounts given to specific groups.B)No, report available by request.C)Wal-Mart Foundation: Starting in 1997, annual report provides total amount given to charity and names recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.General ElectricA)Press releases provide names of some charities that are given grants.B)No report.C)GE Fund: Annual report provides total amount given to charity and names recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.International Business MachinesA)Annual philanthropic report provides total amount given to charity, types of causes supported, and a partial list of recipients with grant amounts.B)No, report available by request.C)IBM International Foundation: Annual report provides a partial list of recipients, with some grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.AT&TA)Biannual philanthropic report provides summary of company grants of $5,000 and more.B)No, report available by request.C)AT&T Foundation: Biannual report provides a full list of recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.Mobile CoporationA)Giving not disclosed.B)No report.C)Mobile Foundation: Annual report provides a full list of recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.Chrysler CorporationA)Giving not disclosed.B)No report.C)Chrysler Corporation Fund: Starting in 1997, annual report provides full list of recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by requestPhillip Morris CompaniesA)Press releases provide names of some charities, with grant amounts.BNo report.C)No Foundation.D)No report.Texaco CoporationA)Press releases provide names of some of company's largest grants.B)No report.C)Texaco Fund: Annual report provides a full list of recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.State Farm Insurance CompaniesA)Annual philanthropic brochure provides some a partial list of recipients but no grant amounts.B)No, brochure available by request.C)State Farm Companies Foundation: Starting in 1997, annual report provides a partial list of recipients, without grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.Prudential Insurance Company of AmericaA)Annual philanthropic report provides some information; more detailed descriptions are available upon request.B)No, report available by request.C)Prudential Foundation: Annual report provides a partial list of recipients, with grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.E.I. du Pont de Nemours & CompanyA)Giving not disclosed.B)No report.C)No foundation.D)No report.Cheveron CorporationA)Annual philanthropic report provides total amount given to charity and a list of recipients of $5,000 and more, with grant amounts.B)Yes, report distributed at annual shareholders' meeting.C)No foundationD)No report.Hewlett-Packard CompanyA)Annual philanthropic report provides partial list of recipients, with grant amounts.B)No, report available by request.C)Hewlett-Packard Foundation: Annual report provides total amount given to charity but does not name recipients or list specific grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.Sears, Roebuck and CompanyA)Starting in 1997, annual philanthropic report provides total amount given to charity but does not name recipients or grant amounts.B)No, report available by request.C)The Sears, Roebuck Foundation: Does not publish a report.D)No report.Procter & Gamble CompanyA)Annual philanthropic report provides total amount given to charity and amount given for each type of cause but does not name all recipients or list grant amounts.B)No, report available by request.C)Proctor & Gamble Fund: Annual report provides total amount given to charity and amount given for each type of cause but does not name recipients of list all grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.Amoco CorporationA)Press releases provide names of some charities receiving grants.B)No report.C)Amoco Foundation: Annual report provides total amount given to charity and name recipients but does not list grant amounts.D)No report was available by request.CiticorpA)Annual philanthropic report provides total amount given to charity and a partial list of recipients, with grant amounts.B)Yes, report distributed at annual shareholders' meeting.C)Citicorp Foundation: Annual report provides total amount given to charity and full lists of recipients with grant amounts.D)Yes, report distributed at annual shareholders' meeting.Dan Morris contributed to this article.

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