Political Action Committee & Personal Political Contributions Revisited – Only of Passing Interest?
After publication of our article in the National Law Review on January 16, Political Action Committee & Personal Political Contributions Become the Next Reputational Challenge for Law Firms & Their Clients, we heard from an attorney from a large firm who raised the issue of “staying power.” This attorney welcomed the sunshine and transparency, but expressed the opinion that interest in things like this always seem short-lived. We thought his comments deserved an answer, one that we now share with you.
Thanks so much for taking time to reply to the publication of our piece in the National Law Review about the need for law firms – and their clients – to be prepared to defend PAC and personal political contributions.
I agree with you that the widespread focus on political contributions may indeed fade with time. Already, we see the insurrectionist attack at the U.S. Capitol overtaken by other news events as the relentless news cycle and the constant need for new information churns on.
Your email prompted a staff discussion. We think it’s important to distinguish between events that dominate the news – which almost always are of short duration – and the ongoing attention to issues that still represent reputational threats. We also believe there have been fundamental societal and technological changes that should compel firm and business executives to add political contributions to the list of potential reputational threats.
At any given moment, law firms and their clients can be hit with a discrimination or OSHA complaint, an accusation of racism, a product failure, a missed filing deadline, an employee who posts something inappropriate on a personal Facebook page, a data breach or a partner who pads an invoice. To that list we’d add political contributions.
Smart organizations, in addition to having a good lawyer a mobile phone call away, should be prepared for the threats above, and others, with a scenario-based crisis management and crisis communications plan ready to execute.
Even beyond preparing for the release of political contribution data, much of this is driven by the ease of information gathering and the ability, via social media, to turn a single piece of information into a cause or a boycott – by virtually anyone at any time.
Not long ago, it took skilled reporters days and weeks to ferret out political contributions at the local, state and federal levels. Now, any concerned citizen with a laptop can access reams of that information, including relationships between donors, employment and family connections.
As a practical matter this means, more than ever, that organizations must walk the talk. Pledged support for #MeToo or Black Lives Matter better be supported by action -- because someone will be watching. Support for a politician who suddenly expresses beliefs antithetical to an organization’s core values is much more likely to be called out – and amplified thousands of times over on social media.
Many organizations also make decentralized PAC contributions, allowing for PAC decisions to be made at the regional or local level – decisions with the potential to reverberate all the way into the CEO’s office.
It’s also important to remember that today’s younger employees are digital natives who grew up on the internet. Many bring to work deeply held beliefs that an employer cannot stand apart from social justice issues – and they’re more than willing to call out that employer.
All of these factors, we believe, have fundamentally changed how organizations should approach the issue of political contributions.
Whether done internally or externally, any organization interested in preserving its reputation should do a vulnerability audit that specifically includes detailed examinations of campaign finance reports, social media accounts, past legacy media and advertising platforms (to ensure consistency with corporate values) plus trend research looking ahead at the nexus of politics, business and social movements – and plan accordingly.