The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering a rule that could stem the tide of shadowy corporate money into political advocacy groups, plugging a hole in campaign finance law blown open by the Supreme Court's controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The rule, supported by a broad coalition of advocacy groups, pension funds, academics and more than 70 members of Congress, surprisingly hinges upon a portion of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, in which Justice Anthony Kennedy says that while the government cannot ban speech ahead of elections based upon corporate identity, it does have a compelling interest in protecting shareholders from unknowingly funding political speech whenever it may occur.
"There is, furthermore, little evidence of abuse that cannot be corrected by shareholders 'through the procedures of corporate democracy,'" Kennedy wrote, citing corporate free speech precedent set by the court's 1978 ruling in First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti.
As a result, activists are pushing the SEC to consider a rule that would force all publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending to shareholders, forcing hundreds of millions of secretly-spent dollars out into the open. A petition on the agency's website has garnered nearly half a million signatures and comments, which The New York Times notes is vastly more public comments than any other rule has received in the agency's history.
Republicans in Congress are already gearing up to fight back, however: The Times adds that House GOP members introduced legislation last week that would tie the agency's hands when it comes to political donations. Republican-aligned special interest groups are also preparing their rhetorical and financial strategies, and none other than Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is already demanding the agency turn over documents related to discussions on the rule.
The decision will ultimately fall to new SEC chair Mary Jo White, a Democrat who officially took office on April 10. The SEC's board is split between two Democrats and two Republicans, with the sitting administration selecting the chair.
The Times added that SEC officials say they could formally propose the rule by the end of April, setting up an early test of White's leadership in the midst of what could be an onslaught of political lobbying for and against the rule.
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