Companies Can Shield Political Spending Thanks to Government Funding Package

Views Of The U.S. Capitol Building As Congress Looks For Agreement On Long-Term Spending Bill
The dome of the U.S. Capitol building is illuminated before sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. The Senate passed a stopgap measure on Thursday to avoid a potential U.S. government shutdown this weekend, as talks continue on a $1.1 trillion spending plan and a separate measure to revive dozens of tax breaks. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Bloomberg

Public companies will be shielded from a new requirement to report their political spending, thanks to the massive government funding package now before Congress.

A Republican-sponsored provision in the omnibus spending bill effectively blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission from implementing a rule forcing public outfits to disclose their political contributions and payments to politically active groups.

Democrats and outside organizations advocating for campaign finance reform have been pushing the agency to adopt the rule, in hopes of shedding more light on the so-called dark money flowing into the political process following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

The rider in the spending package represents a blow to those interests — but only a temporary and limited one. The ban expires next September. And SEC Chairman Mary Jo White has made clear she won’t push to advance the transparency rule, rendering the debate over it largely moot until a new president appoints her successor


In the meantime, groups agitating for transparency can continue pressuring holdout companies to adopt better disclosure practices voluntarily. That effort has already yielded considerable success, with more than 300 of the companies in the S&P 500 now regularly reporting at least some of their political expenditures and 125 of them restricting payments to tax-exempt groups that don’t disclose their own donors.

“We’re making progress getting companies to adopt this voluntarily,” said Bruce Freed, founder of the Center for Political Accountability, which has driven the debate over the disclosures. “But we need uniformity.”

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