Political Disclosure on SEC Agenda

Photograph by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington.

A coalition of groups pressing for disclosure of corporate political contributions said today that it is heartened by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to include plans for a proposed rule on its agenda.

“We congratulate the SEC for listening to investors and the public, in moving forward on a rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports stronger campaign finance laws.

An SEC spokesman, John Nester, said the inclusion of the topic simply means “the staff is considering whether to recommend a proposal.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, introduced legislation last week that would require all groups spending at least $10,000 to disclose their expenditures and their donors. And Sen.John McCain, an Arizona Republican and co-author of the 2002 law banning corporate and union donations to political parties, said in an interview that he was talking with other lawmakers about increasing transparency.

“It may take another scandal, and there will be one,” he said.

At issue is the increasing amount of secret money spent on U.S. elections since the Supreme Court in its 2010 Citizens United decision relaxed curbs on corporate and union campaign spending.

Groups that do not disclose their contributors spent $318 million on the 2012 elections, 85 percent to support Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks campaign spending.

In 2008, non-disclosing groups spent $79 million. Such groups include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Crossroads GPS, founded with the help of Karl Rove; Americans for Prosperity, linked to energy billionaires Charles and David Koch, and the League of Conservation Voters.

“Sometimes we feel like we’re walking around in a fog,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, another Maryland Democrat, on a conference call with reporters today. “You can’t see clearly exactly what’s happening in these campaigns because the money is hidden and the source of the money is unknown. There are legislative responses but there is a lot we can do at the regulatory level.”

 

 

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