WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, the Senate failed to pass a short-term budget bill to keep the government running due to opposition over a secret-money rider and a lack of federal funding to address the Flint water crisis. The proposed secret-money rider would prohibit the SEC from strengthening corporate disclosure laws by requiring transparency of secret political spending. On Tuesday morning, lawmakers including Senators Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, and Barbara Mikulski spoke out against the rider protecting secret, corporate political spending.
Currently, corporations may make unlimited contributions to groups that spend on elections without disclosing their donors. The SEC faces significant pressure from lawmakers, investors and the public to require that publicly traded companies disclose their political contributions.
“Senator Mitch McConnell is risking a government shutdown to defend secret corporate spending in our elections,” said Dan Smith, Democracy Campaign Director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “That doesn’t sit well with the millions of Americans who’ve called for democracy reforms this year. The alternative is simple: pass a clean budget bill that doesn’t give special protections to corporations spending to influence our government.”
On Monday, 37 organizations signed an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging McConnell to reject any poison pill language in budget legislation that would prohibit the Securities and Exchange Commission from strengthening corporate disclosure laws by requiring transparency of secret political spending.
A similar rider, prohibiting the SEC from strengthening disclosure requirements in FY16, was attached to the 2015 end-of-year budget bill. After it passed, ninety-four members of Congress signed a letter to SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White, urging the SEC to continue developing rules that strengthen corporate political spending disclosure without issuing or finalizing them.
The SEC has received more than 1.2 million public comments in favor of political spending disclosure, including from leading academics in securities law, investment managers and advisers, 70 major endowed foundations, and a number of state treasurers.
This year, corporations have already spent $65 million in disclosed political contributions, more than twice the amount spent by corporations in 2012 presidential race. Secret-money groups, which do not disclose their donors, report over $60 million in political spending so far this cycle.
U.S. PIRG, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.