Into the Dark: Shifts in Corporate Political Activity After a Reputational Threat

Mary-Hunter McDonnell (Wharton, University of Pennsylvania)
Timothy Werner (McCombs, UT-Austin)

Abstract: Using a database on social movement boycotts of corporations, we examine how firms alter their political activities in the wake of a reputational threat. We show that boycotts lead to significant reductions in the amount of targets’ political action committee campaign contributions and simultaneous increases in targets’ CEOs’ personal campaign contributions, as well as targets’ lobbying expenditures. We argue that these patterns represent a shift toward more covert forms of political engagement that present new problems for activists and shareholders seeking to monitor corporate political activity.