Companies Pressed to Reveal Political Spending

Shareholders to vote on political-activities resolutions at 31 companies this year.

Investors have pushed more than 120 public companies in the U.S. to reveal previously confidential details of their political spending even as regulators remain deadlocked over whether to mandate such disclosures.

Thirty-one companies -- up from 28 last year -- will hold shareholder votes in 2013 on resolutions calling for disclosure of how much they spend to influence politics, according to the Washington-based Center for Political Accountability, which helps write the resolutions. The first of those votes, at Humana Inc.’s annual meeting, is scheduled for today.

Parties Split

The SEC’s announcement also divided Capitol Hill, where many Democrats express support for it. In a letter sent to new SEC Chairman Mary Jo White yesterday, a group of 66 House Republicans sought assurance the agency won’t move forward with a rule.

Citizens United

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling freed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited money in candidate elections, with the majority of justices deciding that such spending is equivalent to free speech. The justices also agreed that Congress could pass a law to require companies to disclose their spending on election ads, giving voters context to judge the ads.

‘More Walls’

“Companies are placing more and more walls on their political spending,” Freed said. “Disclosure in many cases means companies are limiting what they are spending.”

‘All Over’

“One of the strongest reasons it’s so clear the SEC needs to step in is that the disclosures we are getting are all over the place,” said Jackson, the Columbia law professor.

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