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Will S.E.C. require public companies to disclose political spending?

April 25, 2013

A loose coalition of Democratic elected officials, shareholder activists and pension funds is petitioning the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded corporations to disclose all of their political donations, The New York Times reports. The agency has indicated it might propose a new disclosure rule by the end of April, as business groups prepare a fierce counterattack.

House Republicans introduced legislation last Thursday that would make it illegal for the S.E.C. to require political disclosures from companies under its jurisdiction. Evidence reportedly has mounted that a significant portion of the hundreds of millions that tax-exempt groups and trade associations spent on political advertising during 2012 came from companies seeking to intervene in campaigns without fear of offending their customers, shareholders or the lawmakers they target for defeat.

“It’s a basic precept of American securities law that shareholders should be given the information they need to evaluate their companies,” Robert J. Jackson Jr., a law professor at Columbia University, is quoted as saying. Opponents argue that the S.E.C. does not have the authority to issue regulations about political spending, and that a disclosure rule would infringe on companies’ free speech rights. — Greg Beaubien


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