Democrats force postponement of committee's vote on SEC nominees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Thursday had to postpone its vote to confirm the two nominees to join the Securities and Exchange Commission, after four Democrats created a wall of opposition over the nominees’ views of corporate political spending.

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The resistance posed by Charles Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, led to procedural confusion and the Republican Committee Chairman, Richard Shelby of Alabama, decided to delay the vote.

The SEC, the country’s top securities regulator, has faced mounting pressure to require corporations to disclose political donations since the Supreme Court struck down strict limits on campaign finance in its 2010 Citizens United decision.

During a confirmation hearing on the nominees last month, Schumer had demanded the two nominees, Republican Hester Peirce and Democrat Lisa Fairfax, state in writing that they support requiring corporations to make their political donations public.

At Thursday’s vote, he said the answers he received were “gobbledy gook” that did not express firm positions, and he would oppose the nominations.

“Right now, the SEC is our best hope to undo some of the damage from Citizens United and stop the torrential downpour of dark money into our elections,” Schumer said after the hearing.

“The SEC needs commissioners who believe in and support campaign spending transparency, and unfortunately these nominees have yet to answer that call.”

Budget legislation passed by the Republican-majority Congress at the end of 2015 blocked the SEC from creating a rule on political spending. At March’s confirmation hearing Peirce, a senior fellow at George Mason University, said the SEC is charged with carrying out laws and she would not undermine the budget legislation if confirmed.

Peirce and Fairfax, a law professor at George Washington University, were nominated by President Barack Obama in October.

At the hearings the most powerful Democrat on the committee, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, pressed to confirm the nominees quickly and send their names to the full Senate to approve.

“These people have been asked to take on important jobs. It is incumbent upon us to act on them promptly today and then on the floor,” Brown said.

Thursday’s vote was “en banc,” which meant the committee was set to approve a single list of nominations that included the two. Voting was also postponed, then, for the other nominees on the list.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Meredith Mazzilli