A Social Movement Perspective on Corporate Campaign Finance

Policymakers, the publics, and activists were aware that the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissions decision might open the corporate campaign spending floodgates. This may, to some extent, further impact how democracy works in the United States. Shareholder and stakeholder activists have long tried to pressure corporate political spending transparency and political accountability. In my dissertation, I will use statistical, network, and computational methods to examine the antecedents and consequences of U.S. corporations being targeted by social movements regarding political spending activities and related governance practices. Drawing on data from multiple sources such as CPA, WebScraping (e.g., media reports), and other big administrative records, I will propose a social movement perspective on corporate campaign finance by addressing two sets of questions: 1) Why some U.S. corporations are targeted by shareholder and stakeholder activism and some are not? 2) What are the consequences of those shareholder and stakeholder activism against corporate political spending activities and governance practices in terms of corporate status and performance? Findings of this project will inform policymakers about how corporations govern their campaign finance and interact with primary shareholder and secondary stakeholder activists. Results will also inform corporate leaders that how they can use information disclosure strategy to mitigate the adverse effects of social movements on corporate status and performance.

Using “big data” techniques, this project will scrape all relevant media reports on activism or conflicts against corporate political spending. To validate whether media coverage is activism or not, I will use the Machine-Learning Protest Event Data System (MPEDS) to automatically code protest event data, and use Google Cloud Sentiment Analysis toolkit to capture name entities and their sentiments in activism coverage.

This project will advance the scholarship in several ways. First, I will build a unique dataset that combines outside and insider activism against U.S. publicly traded firms in 2004-2015 with information related to stock price, investor perceptions, federal contracts, congressional hearings. This will provide scholars further opportunities to examine a series of research questions related to political sociology, economic sociology and organizational studies. Second, it will extend current social movement research to corporate political spending activities and governance policies, a field that has been long overlooked by sociologists. Finally, it will address several critical concerns by corporate leaders, the publics, and policymakers related to U.S. corporate campaign finance reform and regulations.