Campaign Finance

Forget the First Amendment, SEC May Force Disclosure of Political Expenditures

Nothing is beyond the reach of regulators


The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission quietly announced last month that it's considering forcing publicly traded companies to disclose political contributions. Such a regulation could transform the way money gets spent on elections, so it's no surprise that two opposing camps are already preparing to try influence the agency's decision.

On one side are such trade associations as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly $30 million trying to defeat Democratic candidates during the 2012 election cycle. Because of their tax-exempt status with the IRS, trade associations aren't required to reveal their donors. That essentially gives companies a free pass to donate to trade associations and influence elections without having to face public backlash. But the Chamber is arguing that investors don't need to know about political donations because they're too small to have a significant effect on a company's bottom line. This may be the case, but right now investors have no way to confirm it because the amounts don't have to be disclosed.