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On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and experts make the case for transparency

At a briefing organized by Public Citizen as a part of the Corporate Reform Coalition on Wednesday, lawmakers, lawyers, and corporate governance experts made a strong case for a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rulemaking that would require publicly-traded companies to disclose their political spending.

The event was keynoted by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass). who were joined by Professors Robert Jackson and John Coates of Columbia and Harvard Law Schools, Pat Doherty of the New York State Comptroller’s Office, Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute, and Laura Berry, executive director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Speaking before a standing-room-only crowd, the panel pressed the SEC to listen to the overwhelming support for the rulemaking from shareholders, and to not bend to arguments that the rule would constitute an unwarranted political move by the agency.

Quotes and photos from the events are below. Don’t forget to weigh in in favor of the rule with the SEC!

Sen. Robert Menendez: “Disclosure of corporate political spending has, in my mind, very clear value for our democracy. It comes in the form of transparency. It comes by cleaning up campaign finance, and keeping the elections process fair and free of super-funded outside influence.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “The idea that a company can say, ‘I’m going to take your money, but then I’m going to spend big parts of it in ways that you don’t understand, in ways that I’m not going to disclose,’ I think is fundamentally wrong. It undercuts the basic notions of corporate democracy and ultimately all of democracy.”

Professor Robert Jackson (at podium): “There’s absolutely no reason to think that disclosing this kind of spending is going to keep companies from engaging in political spending that actually is good for shareholders. The only kind of spending they won’t continue to do is the kind that’s bad for shareholders. And that’s not a cost of disclosure, that’s a benefit.”

Professor John Coates (left, seated): “All you need to know for this rule to make sense as a policy matter is that politics is risky. It creates risks for investors, and investors need to know what those risks are in order to make reasonable investment decisions.”

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch: “SEC Chair Mary Joe White lately has spoken about the need for the SEC to be independent, stressing that they are the ones who should use their expertise to mandate transparency requirements when information about companies is needed by investors. We believe this rule fits that rubric perfectly.”

All photos in this post appear courtesy of Columbia Law School, photographer, Jay Mallin.

Kelly Ngo is the online advocacy organizer with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.