Advocates for more transparency in the political system were dealt another blow this week as the Securities and Exchange Commission dropped a potential rule on the disclosure of corporate campaign contributions from its 2014 agenda. The regulatory agency, which is mandated to protect investors, is required by law to submit its agenda for the next year to the Office of Management and Budget. A conspicuous absence this time was consideration of a rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose the specifics of their political spending to shareholders — an item that was included in the SEC’s 2013 agenda but was never acted upon. Individuals, interest groups, and corporations can write to the SEC to show they are in favor or opposed to proposed regulations. This particular provision garnered more than 600,000 public comments, more than any other rule in the SEC’s history, mostly written in favor of more disclosure. That fact alone makes the SEC’s decision all the more disappointing to those agitating for reform.
“It is an uphill battle to get disclosure in dark money. We saw an opening with the SEC and that door seemed to have been open reasonably wide,” said Lisa Rosenberg, government affairs consultant to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit transparency organization. “Now it’s closed a little bit, and it’s very disappointing because there’s so much resistance to disclosure in general that is coming from a small number of donors.”
The landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, opened the floodgates for unlimited campaign contributions by corporations. Those corporations often funnel the money through intermediaries, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or other groups many experts say are formed explicitly to hide the source of the donations. Since then, efforts to shed more light on political spending have largely flopped, with legislation requiring disclosure of donors contributing more than $100,000 failing to garner a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2012.
SEC officials said that not being included on the official agenda does not prevent a regulation from being ultimately considered, although observers indicated that the omission signaled that the rule was not an imminent priority for the agency. “The list represents our best estimate as to what would be ready for Commission consideration by fall of 2014,” SEC spokesman John Nester said in a statement.