One of the new members of the fast-growing American Promise Business Network is Maureen Kline, Vice President, Public Affairs and Sustainability at Pirelli Tire North America. She brings a global perspective to her work thanks to time spent working and living in Milan, Italy, at Pirelli’s global headquarters. Recently Kline spoke with American Promise President Jeff Clements about why she signed on to the Business Network and how the movement to reduce the influence of money in U.S. politics aligns with Pirelli’s practices. This article highlights excerpts from their conversation.
Business leaders from across the political spectrum sign on to the American Promise Business Network for a variety of important reasons — for Maureen Kline, Vice President, Public Affairs and Sustainability for Pirelli Tire North America, the decision was a natural fit as it reflects her company’s policy of not making political campaign contributions. That commitment is part of Pirelli’s stakeholder capitalism mindset, which values contributing to healthier and more equitable systems as well as making a profit.
During a recent conversation with American Promise President Jeff Clements, Kline said the global ban on political contributions is part of Pirelli’s ethics and compliance program embedded in its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. “In our values and ethical code we have values like fairness and transparency,” she said. “We do firmly believe in stakeholder capitalism and creating value for all stakeholders. When we talk about the community as a stakeholder, we include a phrase about how Pirelli intends to contribute to the prosperity and growth of the communities it operates in.”
Building a More Equitable Society
As a member of the growing AP National Business Network, Kline joins other business people supporting an amendment to limit the amount of money in the U.S. political system and create a more level playing field for companies that values true competition and innovation.
At Pirelli, engagement with government officials is guided by a corporate lobbying policy that values communication and network-building rather than political spending. By working with trade associations, Pirelli helps inform policymakers on the implications of policy change that would affect, for example, tire safety or product legality. “Getting into the weeds about concrete information is useful,” she said.
While campaign spending totals in the U.S. are much higher than those in other countries, Kline said the core issue of businesses seeking to influence policy decisions is a common one around the world. “Every country grapples with the issue of how to deal with the idea that power corrupts,” she said. “Do we heavily regulate? Do we require a lot of transparency? How do we fund political campaigns?”
Combine that with the historical tendency for those in power to seek ways to game the system and stay in control, and Kline said it’s a challenge that requires big-picture policies and initiatives. “I feel that it’s all interconnected: the inequality, the corporate political spending, the laws we have, the system we have,” she said. “To have a more equitable society, we need to really address this problem of corporate money in politics.”
Innovative Business Leadership
Resolving the problem of money in politics will mean ensuring guardrails are in place to protect the rights and voices of citizens as well as the environment, Kline said. the For Our Freedom Amendment would free policymakers and people to discuss and enact reasonable limits on campaign spending. “I do think there is a way forward to bring back some of those checks and balances, and that’s to move from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism,” Kline said. “If I’m focused on maximizing profits for shareholders, I want the government to do what’s in the best self-interest of my company…Stakeholder capitalism would require some regulations, such as ESG disclosures to investors.”
As people increasingly look to brands to take a stand on issues and policy, Kline said business leaders can use the opportunity to raise awareness of the lack of transparency around campaign finance and the imbalance of power in the United States. She also suggests they re-examine why and where they are making political donations and consider whether a change would better support their business. “I don’t think you need to be spending on political campaigns,” she said. “Maybe that would be better spent investing in your business and innovations. We need people to step back and ask how did we get here, is this productive, and can we do something differently?”
Watch the full American Promise In-Depth session with Maureen Kline of Pirelli Tire North America: