There is widespread support among policymakers, institutional investors and the general public for US CEOs to play an active yet limited role in national-policy debates, according to CEO as Statesman II: Views from the Beltway and Beyond, a new report from FTI Consulting.
The report comes at a time when CEOs are being drawn more deeply into the policymaking process, due in large part to the aftermath of the financial crisis; and the enactment of landmark legislation such as the Affordable Care Act and Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
“Many business leaders have expressed alarm surrounding government oversight of and intrusion into business, but are unsure about the best ways to engage with policymakers,” says Jackson Dunn, senior managing director and Americas head of public affairs at FTI. “There is skepticism from voters and policymakers regarding CEO activity in the nation’s capital, but a recognition that the business community is needed to help solve some of the country’s biggest problems.
“The challenge for a business leader today is to know how to engage and on which issues.”
The poll reconfirms investors clearly recognize the impact Washington, DC, can have on portfolios, and shows that investors regard CEO engagement in the political and policymaking process as positive, so long as that engagement is related to the CEO’s business or industry.
More than three-quarters of investors polled (76 percent) say decisions on Capitol Hill are ranked moderately-high to high, a decline from similar polling in 2011 when 89 percent ranked decision-making in Washington, D.C. as an area of concern. Eight in 10 (79 percent) investors would like their portfolio companies to be more vocal about the impact of policy changes on their respective businesses, while more than half (53 percent) feel public companies should be highly engaged in national policy discussions.
However, policymakers are far more skeptical of the presence of corporations and CEOs in policy debates. Only 40 percent feel CEO participation in public-policy discussion is positive, a figure that falls to just 34 percent among the general public.
“Capitol Hill and Wall Street are never going to see eye-to-eye on who is best positioned to solve pressing problems facing this country, whether that is deficit reduction, entitlement spending or tax reform,” says Elizabeth Saunders, senior managing director and Americas chairman of the strategic communications segment for FTI. “There is a narrow region where investors, policymakers and the public share a point of view though—it all comes down to job creation and STEM education.
“Given the consensus, it is obvious where CEOs should focus their energy in Washington, D.C.”
Elsewhere in the survey, investors agree CEOs would make strong political leaders, as three-out-of-four (74 percent) institutional investors say national challenges would be better addressed if business leaders ran for office, according to the poll. Among Washington, DC, opinion elites, just 38 percent would like to see more CEOs become politicians, compared to 45 percent among the general public.