U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today pressed the Securities and Exchange Commission to require public companies to disclose political spending to their shareholders, a move that would increase transparency in the U.S. political process following the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that unleashed unlimited corporate spending into American elections.
Without requirements for disclosure, corporate political spending can become “dark money” that influences elections without voters being able to see the source of the money or take into account what special interests may be behind it. In a letter sent today to SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White, Sens. Warner and Kaine wrote that requiring public corporations to disclose their political spending to shareholders would bring “much needed accountability to shareholders and transparency to corporate political spending.”
Wrote the Senators, “We believe this is consistent with the SEC’s requirement for public companies to disclose meaningful financial information to the public. We strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC that allowed unlimited and unchecked corporate spending on campaign ads and various other political communications. This reversed long-standing precedent and has moved our country in a different and disturbing direction when it comes to corporate influence in politics.”
After a record number of people signed a petition asking for the SEC to address shareholder disclosure of political spending, the SEC added the item to its rulemaking agenda for 2013. The rule was never completed, however, and in 2014, it was pulled from the SEC’s docket with little explanation.
In today’s letter, the Senators wrote, “We add our voices to the many who have expressed frustration and disappointment that the SEC decided to remove this issue from its regulatory agenda entirely…. We ask that you make this a top priority for the SEC in the near term, and inform us of the basis for your decision should you not plan to include it on the Commission’s agenda for the upcoming year.”
In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, the letter was signed by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Gary Peters (D-MI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Harry Reid (D-NV), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).