Qualcomm, Inc., the country’s largest maker of computer chips for mobile devices, will voluntarily disclose previously secret political contributions to tax-exempt groups under a settlement announced Friday with the New York State comptroller.
New York’s suit marked a new tactic in the growing battle by officials and activists nationwide to bring more sunlight to tax-exempt groups that they believe help corporations spend money on political influence outside the jurisdiction of federal campaign disclosure laws.
The comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, filed a suit against Qualcomm last month in Delaware Chancery Court on behalf of New York’s public employee retirement fund, asserting the fund’s right as a Qualcomm shareholder to inspect records of the company’s political spending.
In reaching the settlement, Mr. DiNapoli agreed to drop the lawsuit, leaving untested the proposition that activist shareholders could use Delaware’s unique corporate governance laws to force more political disclosure on the hundreds of large corporations that are based in the state. But Qualcomm immediately posted on its Web site a new list of previously undisclosed political contributions to tax-exempt groups, along with a new corporate disclosure policy that transparency advocates hailed as one of the most complete in the nation.
“Qualcomm’s disclosure policy sets a high standard for transparency in corporate political spending disclosure, and the company deserves praise for its actions,” Mr. DiNapoli said in a statement. “This is a significant milestone in greater transparency in corporate political spending.”
With efforts to legislate more disclosure showing little progress in Congress, shareholder groups and corporate transparency advocates have pushed many large companies to voluntarily share more information about their political spending. Mr. DiNapoli is among a small group of public officials who have tried to leverage their own jurisdictions – in Mr. DiNapoli’s case, as sole trustee of one of the country’s largest pension funds – to take even more aggressive action.
Qualcomm’s founder, Irwin Jacobs, is a major donor to Democratic super PACs, politicians and tax-exempt groups, and the firm’s employees were generous donors to President Obama. But the new disclosures reveal that the company’s contributions to politically active nonprofit groups, lobbying outfits and trade associations rival its previously disclosed contributions to candidates and party organizations.
The largest single contribution, $1 million, went to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a business-backed group that has lobbied for a so-called grand bargain on closing the deficit, restructuring Social Security, and closing tax loopholes. Tens of thousands more went to center-left or nonpartisan advocacy groups, like No Labels or Third Way.
Additionally, $1.8 million went to a variety of trade groups, including $385,000 to the United States Chamber of Commerce.
“Qualcomm agrees with the New York State Common Retirement Fund that increased transparency for election-related activities by corporations is very beneficial,” said Paul E. Jacobs, Qualcomm’s chief executive. “While Qualcomm has been developing a new policy on disclosure of political expenditures for some time, engaging with the Common Retirement Fund has been helpful.”