If you believe public corporations should be required to disclose their political campaign contributions, there’s a simple solution. It is the solution that is being considered by the Securities Exchange Commission in Washington– namely, to treat contributions as material transactions and, on that basis, require that they be disclosed, like profits, losses, lawsuits, etc, in periodic public filings with the SEC.
This regulatory solution to a highly divisive issue has drawn the scorn of conservative Republicans. While conservatives generally favor disclosure as a market-oriented alternative to command-and-control regulation in the area of campaign finance, that commitment, when tested by the prospect of a simple solution like an SEC rule, proves to be shallow indeed.
Remember all the fuss about the Supreme Court’s Citizens’ United decision, which was blamed (by liberals) and credited (by conservatives) with unleashing anonymous political contributions by corporations? Republicans embraced the decision, which, while permitting independent corporate spending, also emphasized the need for disclosure as a check on corporate influence. Now, however, conservatives support only one-half of the Citizens United ruling: their commitment to the principle of disclosure, it turns out, ends where their political self-interest begins.
Although the SEC has received the backing of many democrats, missing is the massive outpouring of support, even frenzy, of their assault on Citizens’ United. Remember the push to amend the first amendment to clarify that its beneficiaries were limited to sentient humans, not corporations? Adopting an SEC regulation requiring disclosure of corporate political spending would have much the same effect, yet the protests and marches are nowhere to be found. I guess agency rule-making is just less sexy than a constitutional convention.
Let’s be honest. There is no good reason not to mandate full disclosure of corporate political contributions, which are cloaked in secrecy when made through nonprofit organizations. Reasonable people can disagree about whether corporations should be allowed to engage in such spending at all. No one reasonably can disagree that corporations’ shareholders, and voters generally, should be allowed to know about the contributions when they are made. – PETER SCHEER