Inquiring minds participating at Omnicom’s virtual May 3 shareholder meeting wanting to know how much their company donates to political campaigns or to “influence the general public” are headed for disappointment.
That’s because Omnicom’s board says the amount spent on political activities is of such a “de minimis nature” that any disclosure would fail to provide any meaningful information. The cost of disclosure would exceed any perceived advantage, according to the company.
How about letting the shareholders decide if the donations are of a “de minimus” or a “de maximus” figure?
As a holding company, Omnicom says it doesn’t make political contributions, but its agencies do on a limited in frequency and amount basis.
Omnicom’s units include Porter Novelli, Ketchum, FleishmanHillard, Mercury, Marina Maher Communications, Portland, and Cone.
Disclosure is in the best interest of the company and its shareholders, says a stockholder proposal set for the annual meeting,
The resolution cites the Supreme Court 2010 Citizens United ruling: “Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”
Omnicom contends that its political contributions are subject to public disclosure by federal, state, and local laws.
Yes and no. The shareholder proposal notes disclosure requirements fail to cover payments to trade associations or other tax-exempt "dark money groups” that may be used for election-related activities.
The ad/PR firm says it joins trade groups because it values their industry expertise, not because it wants to use them to promote a political view.
The resolution notes that a growing number of companies are disclosing electoral spending and payments to trade groups and tax-exempt groups that may be used for political spending.
That list includes Accenture, Automatic Data Processing and Cognizant Technology Solutions.
If Omnicom truly donates peanuts to political campaigns, why not disclose the amount and earn a measure of goodwill among shareholders and points for good corporate citizenship?
That willingness to disclose political spending, especially in the aftermath of the Capitol Hill rioting, would be part of 68-year-old CEO John Wren’s legacy at Omnicom.