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Congressional momentum on SEC political spending push

Public Citizen applauds the 70 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) today urging it to follow through on its stated agenda and require disclosure of political spending by corporations.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, corporations have been able to spend money freely on elections, and often do so by giving funds to “dark money” organizations not required to disclose the identities of their donors. But investors have a right to know how their money – a corporation’s profits –– is being spent. The trouble is, there is no requirement that companies share this information.

The letter stated:

“Some companies have taken the initiative to publicly disclose their political spending which illustrates not only the ease with which it can be accomplished but also the acceptance of many prominent and large corporations. Unfortunately, however, other companies have kept their shareholders in the dark and unaware that their money could be funding political activities, or even political attack ads. The rights of shareholders must be protected.”

The SEC has received a record-breaking deluge of 490,000 comments urging disclosure of political spending. In addition, a Zogby International poll commissioned by the Center for Economic Development found that 77 percent of business leaders said that corporations should disclose all of their direct and indirect political expenditures. The SEC has taken the public and investor demand for greater disclosure into account and has begun to consider a rulemaking in response.

These members of Congress have it right; the SEC can and should move this rule forward. It is critical both for democracy and the rights of the marketplace investor.

Lisa Gilbert is @Public_Citizen’s Congress Watch director. Follow her on Twitter @Lisa_PubCitizen