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Bill Would Pave Way for Corporate Political Spending Transparency

Should the SEC have the legal option to require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending?

by Countable | 1.16.19

  • One of the first bills out of the new Congress would – among other things – lift a ban currently preventing the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political donations.
  • The broader intent of the For the People Act is to reduce money’s influence in politics, and increased campaign finance transparency is one of the bill’s three pillars.

Why it matters

Critics of the current system say political contributions from corporations corrode democracy when companies disproportionately influence elected officials to further their interests. Those who favor more minimal limits on political spending counter that restrictions on contributions – even by corporations – are unconstitutional limits on free speech.

The latter camp achieved a major victory with the January 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court threw out spending limits that had been in place for decades.

The structure of campaign finance law and the many ways in which companies can spend to influence political outcomes make it impossible to determine independently what groups a company contributes to that are active in the political arena. Those seeking more clarity focus on spending from intermediary groups that receive corporate money and disburse it on both political campaigns and lobbying after elections are over.

Intermediary groups in general, the source for much of the additional cash in current elections, spend increasingly vigorously: more than $1.6 billion in 2016, 30 percent more than in 2012 and more than triple the amount spent by such groups in the 2008 presidential election.

Voluntary disclosure

While many business groups oppose expanded disclosure efforts, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, a growing number of large companies are providing more detail about how they oversee spending and what they spend.

Much remains opaque, however, particularly at the state level. According to recent research by the Sustainable Investments Institute:

“Even if there is voluntary reporting by companies, the state level disclosures required by law do not allow for an easy understanding of what companies spend on lobbying. Instead, they often provide an illusory sense of transparency that in practice explains little.”

Legal constraints on the SEC

Congressional opponents of disclosure were able to insert a section into the Omnibus Appropriations Act in the fall of 2015 that limited the SEC from using any funds from the bill to “finalize, issue, or implement any rule, regulation, or order regarding the disclosure of political contributions, contributions to tax-exempt organizations, or dues paid to trade associations.” The section has appeared in the continuing budget resolutions passed in both 2017 and early 2018.

Prospects

The current bill doesn’t seem likely to pass the Republican-controlled Congress, particularly given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has consistently opposed any sort of political disclosure rulemaking.

Even if the legislation doesn’t pass, it could still set the stage for eliminating the specific prohibition on SEC political disclosure rulemaking.

What do you think?

Should the SEC have the legal option to require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending? Why or why not? Tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Image Credit: iStock.com / mj0007

Countable

Written by Countable

Leave a comment
(90)
  • jayar
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Better yet, let's just outlaw it altogether. Corporate purchase of politicians leads to a direct conflict of interest.

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  • Roxanne
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Over turn the so called "Citizens United" act. Corporations ARE NOT PEOPLE! Until then all corporate donations need to be fully disclosed! On another subject - shame on every Senator that did not vote to uphold the Russian sanctions!! Hum.. what happened to the so called patriots in office? Is this another party before country vote? Yes I'm talking to you Lindsey Graham and especially Mitt Romney. Tough on Russia...what a joke!!!

    Like (27)
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  • JTJ
    Voted No
    01/17/2019
    ···

    If you are so concerned about this, then go investigate the Clintons.

    Like (16)
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  • Leslie
    Voted Maybe
    01/18/2019
    ···

    It is only a start, cooperations are not individuals, limit the amount of donations allowed, tie donations to a social security number, shorten the election

    Like (5)
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  • TrulyTexan
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    We need to know who owns our politicians. Do this and place caps on the donation amounts.

    Like (28)
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  • eliyak
    Voted No
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Political campaign spending should be limited to a) private individuals and b) the candidate's campaign committee. We have a government of the people, not of the corporations.

    Like (10)
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  • Bernie
    Voted Maybe
    01/18/2019
    ···

    Only if Unions do the same.

    Like (4)
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  • burrkitty
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Frankly, you should not be able to donate money to politicians if you are not a individual voter in their district. No corporate money, no PAC’s, no special interest groups, no political party “war-chests”. NO MORE CORRUPTION! NO MORE CONFLICTS OF INTEREST! NO MORE OUTSIDE INFLUENCES!

    Like (18)
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  • David
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    This should actually not even be an option, it should be required! Money does NOT equate with free speech, it equates with political influence resulting in the purchase of elections by the wealthy. Constituencies then become who (or what company) has provided the most money to the campaign, not the voters in the district. Campaigns need to be publicly financed, PAC’s and third party contributions need to be illegal. Third party issue ads need to be prohibited.

    Like (17)
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  • Andy1
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    How about instead of a D or an R after a politician’s name we list their owners.

    Like (11)
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  • Dave.Land
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Unlike natural persons, corporations do not exist except by an act of the state. They are, and always have been, “artificial persons.“ as such, they need to be closely monitored, because otherwise, they don’t have any motivation but profit, so they can—and do—all manner of social, environmental, and economic harm in pursuit of it. One of the greatest harms that they do is to our political system, where their vast budgets allow them to take control of the political process. Individual contributors—that is, natural persons—cannot come close to matching their economic influence over the political process. All of their political contributions should be monitored and publicized so that people know who they’re trying to buy.

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  • Marco
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Transparency is extremely important when deciding veracity and fidelity of re-elected officials.

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  • Stephen
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Full disclosure of individual, Corporation, and SuperPac political contributions MUST be mandated and made available to the public. American democracy is being degrading by those with the money to influence political decisions in their favor. I support a law mandating the SEC to enforce political donation disclosure by every business, private and public. I would also be in favor of maintaining a nation database of political donations at both the state and federal level. I want to know who is buying influence with the representatives the citizens elected to lead this country!

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  • Jerry
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Let’s change the name from lobbyists to bribists

    Like (9)
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  • Clint
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
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    Yes I would like to know who’s running our government please.

    Like (8)
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  • Andrew
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Since my representatives in the House and the Senate have such a terrible history of accepting money from corporate and special interests, I believe it is my right as a constituent to have maximum transparency. I want to know which donors are shaping my representatives’ policy decisions, and how much they have paid to do so.

    Like (8)
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  • Delmar
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    I want to know what the corporations are spending on buying out my politicians!! There needs to be lots of transparency in government!!

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  • Sarah
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    I strongly support this effort to increase transparency. The American people deserve to be informed so that they might vote with confidence AND make purchases with confidence!

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  • Janet
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    This bill is way overdue. I consider this type of funding a bribe to beholden the recipient to do its bidding.

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  • Leon
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    Oh yes. We’ll see if corporate America becomes less political after all the boycotts.

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  • toddinmi
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
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    Arming investors and the public with the information they need to facilitate informed decision-making is a core responsibility of the SEC. In fact, it is one of the factors that led to the creation of the SEC. It is one of the SEC’s core functions to identify gaps in information that investors require, and then close that gap as quickly as possible.

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  • Robert
    Voted Yes
    01/17/2019
    ···

    It is our country. We should know who are trying to sway our vote. They should not be ashamed of what they are doing and hide behind police pacs.

    Like (6)
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