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The People Deserve To Know About Corporate Donations


The U.S. government is supposed to be of, by and for the people. But recent rulings by the Supreme Court dealing with election contributions have made many think otherwise. And inaction by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to take a small step and stop secret corporate political spending only makes it worse.

The Corporate Reform Coalition announced late last week that more than one million comments had been filed at the federal agency to urge the SEC to step in and require publicly traded corporations to disclose their use of corporate resources for political purposes to their shareholders. It’s a small effort to shine sunlight on the corporate donation process, one that many companies like Microsoft have already taken upon themselves to make public.

But the SEC seems to be gun-shy. A rulemaking, placed on the agency’s agenda last year by its former leader, was removed by current Chair Mary Jo White in late 2013. It seems the corporate cronies of certain Capitol Hill lawmakers weren’t so keen of the idea and had their political pit bulls let regulators know it. The public’s strong support of the proposal no longer mattered.

But Robert Jackson, a law professor at Columbia University who was one of the initial petition filers, told those gathered at a Sept. 4 briefing in front of the SEC’s headquarters in Washington that the people’s overwhelming support for corporate spending openness shouldn’t be ignored.

“There is no longer any excuse at all for the SEC to turn its back on more than a million Americans who have written in about his proposal,” he said. “The mass attention that the proposal has received has given the SEC all the information it needs to decide whether and how to pursue a rule in this area. And while the opponents of this rule have succeeded in putting a great deal of political pressure on the new chairman, they have failed to provide any compelling reason why the SEC should not take action.”

The Teamsters have been outspoken advocates of the petition, and have even taken up the issue directly with corporations by rallying investor support to improve transparency on the issue. Just as unions are required to disclose who they’ve donated campaign monies to, so should corporations. There is no reason there shouldn’t be an even playing field on this issue.

Millions of people making retirement investments have a right to know about how the companies they’ve purchases shares of are spending their cash. Many times, political contributions end up biting corporations in the backside and cost their investors dearly. Teamsters, through affiliated pension and benefit funds, have more than $100 billion invested in capital markets. The union relies upon the SEC to ensure that as investors the Teamsters are provided accurate and transparent financial reports by the companies with whom we invest.

Government needs to be responsive to its citizenry. Corporations shouldn’t get a pass on following the same rules as organizations that represent workers.