U.S. senators Menendez, Warren press SEC over political spending

WASHINGTON Wed Oct 30, 2013 5:36pm EDT

WASHINGTON Oct 30 (Reuters) - Two U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday urged the public to ramp up their pressure on federal regulators to adopt new rules that would require public companies to disclose their political spending, saying such a rule will shine a light on corporate influence in elections.

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke at an event on Capitol Hill organized by the backers of a political spending disclosure rule, including the non-profit Public Citizen.

In brief speeches, they told supporters to keep pressing the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and said they would also push for legislation that would require such disclosures should their pleas fall on deaf ears.

"Our collective job is to urge them. Push them. Harass them until they do the right thing," Warren told the group. "This one really matters. It matters for our business world. It matters for our democratic world."

Advocates have been pressing the SEC for action on a political spending rule for several years now, after a group of professors filed a petition with the SEC requesting a rulemaking.

The idea was prompted by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that independent expenditures by corporations are constitutional and paved the way for spending by groups known as super political action committees.

The previous SEC leadership placed the topic on a list of possible rulemaking areas for the agency to consider.

But a political spending disclosure requirement has yet to progress into a formal proposal, and only one SEC commissioner - Democrat Luis Aguilar - has publicly embraced the idea.

The SEC's new Chair Mary Jo White, who took over in April, has not directly given her views on the topic.

She told a U.S. House committee earlier this year that the SEC was not actively writing a rule, and several weeks ago, she gave a speech in which she said she generally opposed writing disclosure rules designed to apply social pressures on companies.

Meanwhile, just last week, Republican SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher gave a speech saying it would be a waste of the agency's time to write political spending rules and that such details were not crucial to helping investors make decisions on which stocks to buy or sell.

Menendez, who introduced a bill earlier this year to mandate political spending disclosures, told the audience on Wednesday that such information is "very material to how shareholders decide where to invest their money and how to vote in corporate elections."

"It's simple," he added. "It's shareholders' money, and they should know whether the corporate managers who work for them are spending it for political purposes."

An SEC spokesman declined to comment.

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