41 Senate Democrats to McConnell: Reject Efforts to Block Corporate Political Spending Disclosure

41 Senate Democrats to McConnell: Reject Efforts to Block Corporate Political Spending Disclosure


WASHINGTON, DC – Forty-one democratic senators, led by Senators Bob Menendez, Jeff Merkley , Charles Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Jack Reed today called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to prevent any language from being inserted into any 2017 appropriations bills that would prohibit the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from requiring public companies to disclose political spending to their shareholders. 

“As you work to prepare any fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills or continuing resolutions, we respectfully request that you reject any language that would limit the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) ability to develop, propose, issue, finalize, or implement a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to shareholders,” the Senators wrote.  “…because as you know, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 regrettably included language doing just that.”

While the SEC has received more than 1.2 million public comments in favor of corporate political spending disclosure, the Commission has made no progress towards implementing the requirement in the six years since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

“For six long years, companies have had free rein to solidify their influence in politics and maximize their impact on elections,” the Senators added.  “As the magnitude of the problem and the potential for abuse has skyrocketed, investor demand for this information has greatly intensified.”

Menendez, Merkley, Schumer, Warren, Brown, and Reed were also joined by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Edward J. Markey, Sheldon Whitehouse, Dianne Feinstein, Tom Udall, Michael Bennet, Chris Coons , Patrick J. Leahy, Thomas Carper, Mazie K. Hirono, Jon Tester, Tammy Baldwin, Maria Cantwell, Richard Blumenthal, Barbara Boxer, Benjamin L. Cardin, Bernard Sanders, Angus S. King, Jr.  Amy Klobuchar,  Robert P. Casey, Jr.  Tim Kaine, Heidi Heitkamp, Jeanne Shaheen, Ron Wyden, Christopher Murphy, Mark Warner, Gary C. Peters, Bill Nelson, Cory Booker, Claire McCaskill, Patty Murray, Richard J. Durbin, Al Franken, Martin Heinrich, and Debbie Stabenow.

The full letter is below.

September 15, 2016

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

Room S-230, The Capitol

Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Leader McConnell:

As you work to prepare any fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills or continuing resolutions, we respectfully request that you reject any language that would limit the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) ability to develop, propose, issue, finalize, or implement a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to shareholders.  We write to highlight the importance of excluding any such language because as you know, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 regrettably included language doing just that.

We believe the SEC should require companies to disclose to their shareholders how they use corporate resources for political activities.  This disclosure would not only bring much needed accountability to shareholders and transparency to corporate political spending, but it is both clearly consistent with the SEC’s requirement for public companies to disclose meaningful financial information to the public and it fits squarely within the SEC’s primary mission of investor protection. 

The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC fundamentally changed our nation’s campaign finance laws by allowing unlimited and unchecked corporate spending on campaign ads and various other political communications—a decision with which we fervently disagree.  However, notwithstanding our disagreement with the Court’s holding, the decision clearly recognized shareholder and public interest in the disclosure of political spending.  In fact, Justice Kennedy wrote:

“[P]rompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters…. [D]isclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.  This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”[1]

The lack of proper disclosure undermines the very campaign finance system envisioned by the Court.  For six long years, companies have had free rein to solidify their influence in politics and maximize their impact on elections.  As the magnitude of the problem and the potential for abuse has skyrocketed, investor demand for this information has greatly intensified.

To date, more than 1.2 million securities experts, institutional and individual investors, and members of the public have pressed the SEC for a rule to require public companies to disclose their political spending.  Notably, the 1.2 million members of the public are joined in their support of the rulemaking by former SEC Chairs Arthur Levitt (D) and William Donaldson (R) and former Commissioner Bevis Longstreth (D), who emphasized in a May 2015 letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White that the Court’s expectation of disclosure would only be met by compelling companies to inform shareholders of their political activities.

We believe any appropriations language intended to block this critical disclosure will serve only to impede the SEC’s ability to perform its primary mission of investor protection.  As such, we urge you to reject any language that would prohibit the SEC from taking any action to require public companies to disclosure their political spending to shareholders.  We thank you for your leadership, and we appreciate your consideration of this request to restore transparency, accountability, and critical investor protections.

Sincerely,

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[1] Citizens United v. Federal Election Com’n, 558 U.S. 310, 370-371 (2010).