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Two SEC Commissioners Could Dramatically Change Campaign Finance | The Nation

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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

Two SEC Commissioners Could Dramatically Change Campaign Finance

New York City public advocate Bill de Blasio speaks outside the SEC on Monday morning in Washington. 

The road to overturning Citizen’s United by constitutional amendment is a long one—it requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress and then ratification by thirty-eight state legislatures. The DISCLOSE Act was re-introduced in the Senate this month but is almost certain to remain stuck in the mud. Meanwhile, corporations are dumping millions into the coffers of outside groups for the fall elections.

Some campaign reformers have thus turned their attention to the Securities and Exchange Commission, urging it to pass a rule that all publicly traded companies must disclose political spending to shareholders—this would reveal exactly what business interests are trying to influence the election, and in the eyes of most experts, lead to dramatically reduced corporate electioneering.

In his opinion in Citizen’s United, Justice Anthony Kennedy incorrectly asserted that shareholders would be in the loop on political spending, but there’s actually no such requirement. One SEC commissioner, Luis Aguilar, already said he would support a disclosure rule on public corporations. Only two more votes would be needed to pass the rule—and reformers are pushing hard. They held a demonstration outside the SEC this morning, aiming to tell the SEC the “clock is ticking” on disclosure and that it’s “time to wake up.” (Hence the above-pictured human alarm clock).

“The principle here is simple and unassailable,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division at this morning’s demonstration. “The owners of publicly held companies have the right to know how their money is being spent on politics.”

The Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending, a bipartisan group of elected officials, is spearheading the effort along with the Corporate Reform Coalition, which is mainly academics, good government groups and some business groups. They have already generated over 75,000 public comments with the SEC urging it to pass the disclosure rule—which is approaching a record for SEC public comments.

The groups had been pressing unsuccessfully for a meeting with SEC chairwoman Mary Schapiro on this issue for weeks—but, moments before this morning’s rally, an SEC official close to Schapiro offered to host them following the demonstration.

Much of that meeting was off the record, but Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen, who was briefed on the discussion, told me it was “helpful” and that “getting this issue taken up seems to be a matter of making sure it is prioritized.” 

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