A Petition for Rulemaking that would require public companies to disclose political contributions may be stuck in limbo at the Securities and Exchange Commission, despite garnering more than 1 million comment letters, but a new study finds that many companies are making much of that information public anyway.

The Center for Political Accountability has issued its fourth annual CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability. The 2014 edition, according to its authors, shows “growing momentum” among American corporations to disclose details of their political spending. More companies are also requesting that trade associations not use their dues to fund political activities. The research also shows an increased level of board oversight over political spending.

Among the companies receiving top scores for voluntary disclosures were: Noble Energy; CSX, Becton; Dickinson; Capital One Financial; Exelon; Qualcomm; United Parcel Service; AFLAC; Edison International; Microsoft; Morgan Stanley; PG&E, Gilead Sciences; Intel; Mylan; Norfolk Southern; Hershey; Merck; and Time Warner. A majority of nearly 200 publicly held companies that were examined in both 2013 and 2014 received higher overall scores for political disclosure and accountability this year.  

Seven companies do not spend from their corporate treasuries to influence elections and ask trade associations not to use their payments for political purposes: Accenture; Nielsen; IBM; Praxair; Colgate-Palmolive; Schlumberger; and Goldman Sachs.

Voluntary disclosure of political spending is also making inroads among public companies that have not been formally asked to do so by shareholders, according to the research. Of the 139 companies in the index with no history of shareholder resolutions on the issue, 34 disclose full or partial information on their direct expenditures or say they do not make any.

At the same time, “significant room for improvement” remains, the researchers say. Sixty-five companies had disclosure and accountability scores of 10 points or less out of a possible 100, and 20 had scores of zero.

Other findings:

The top-ranked corporate sectors for political disclosure and accountability in 2014 are utilities, health care, and materials.

A total of 133 out of the 299 companies studied disclosed some information on their direct contributions to candidates, parties and committees, while 50 companies (17 percent) said it is their policy not to make such contributions directly.

Almost half of the companies in the index have opened up about payments made to trade associations; 6 percent said they asked trade associations not to use their payments for election-related purposes.

In 2014, 120 companies (40 percent) disclosed some information about their payments to intervene in ballot measures.

Of companies included in the index, 64 percent provided full political spending policies on their websites, while an additional 28 percent provided brief policy statements that “left room for ambiguity.”

Twenty-seven companies said most of their political spending was made through an employee-funded political action committee.

Eighty-seven companies in the index placed some type of restriction on their direct political spending.

More than half companies in the index said directors regularly oversee corporate political spending; 37 percent said a board committee reviews company policy on political spending and 27 percent have a board committee that reviews company payments to trade groups.

The index was released in conjunction with the Carol and Lawrence Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, located at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.