Record-Breaking Number of Comments to Securities and Exchange Commission Highlights Need for Corporate Accountability

May 2, 2012  

Record-Breaking Number of Comments to Securities and Exchange Commission Highlights Need for Corporate Accountability

Public Citizen Helps Lead Effort to Pressure SEC to Issue Rules on Corporate Political Spending

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The historic number of comments submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about the need for corporations to disclose political spending speaks volumes about the importance and public demand for corporate accountability, Public Citizen said today. The timing is particularly noteworthy as large corporations nationwide hold their shareholder meetings this month.

As of this morning, the agency had received more than 178,000 comments – a record.

Public Citizen, as a leader of the Corporate Reform Coalition, urged its supporters to send comments to the SEC insisting that the agency require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending. Of the comments the agency received, more than 35,000 came from Public Citizen’s members and supporters.

“We have been proud to work with such a diverse coalition of groups ranging from institutional investors to transparency advocates to campaign finance reformers – and now bolstered with more than 178,000 citizen comments – in attempting to bring shareholders into the decisionmaking process in the new Wild West of unlimited corporate campaign spending,” said Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Commenters urged the SEC to create rules quickly to mitigate the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to corporate cash in elections. In the Citizens United ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy inaccurately stated that comprehensive disclosure requirements were in place for publicly traded companies.

“The Supreme Court has thrust upon us an entirely new political landscape in its Citizens United decision – a landscape that this nation has not been prepared to deal with both in terms of campaign finance law and responsible corporate governance,” Gilbert said. “The SEC could and should close this gap for the publicly traded companies it oversees.”

Added Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, “Given the new and growing role of undisclosed corporate expenditures in American elections, the SEC should step up to the plate, regardless of any actions that may or may not come from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The dysfunctional FEC has failed to ensure transparency on the campaign finance front, so we need the SEC to fill the void.”

“We encourage the SEC to carry through with the rulemaking project and develop regulations mandating disclosure to investors, shareholders and the public of corporate political expenditures above a de minimis threshold,” Holman said. “The disclosed information should include contributions to third-party entities for political purposes and ensure that shareholders have the right to use company proxy statements to propose and adopt bylaws requiring shareholder approval of overall corporate campaign budgets.”

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.