Congress and Trump just made corruption by US companies easier
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This month, President Trump signed House Joint Resolution 41, repealing a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule mandated by Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act. Section 1504 requires “resource extraction issuers” engaged in the commercial development of oil, gas, and mining resources to report payments made to governments where they operate. Repealing this rule was a priority for the Trump administration. It was President Trump’s first bill signing, and one of many Obama-era rules set for repeal by Congress and the president.

President Trump claims that repealing this rule levels the playing field for domestic extraction companies and will bring back jobs. This is disingenuous at best. The increased transparency under Section 1504 does not harm U.S. economic interests, but it is crucial for establishing an international marketplace with strong standards against corruption.

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Domestic resource extraction companies have not and will not lose out to foreign companies due to these financial disclosure requirements. First, the SEC rule applies equally to all companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges — that is, “issuers.” Thus, the rule does not disproportionately affect U.S. companies. Rather, it applies to all firms seeking to raise capital through the largest stock exchanges in the world, including many of the energy companies competing against U.S. firms.

 

Second, many companies not listed on a U.S. stock exchange are subject to financial disclosure requirements because Section 1504 is substantially similar to other measures already in place internationally, including Canada’s Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA), the EU Accounting and Transparency Directives, and the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange AIM also have special disclosure requirements for extractive sector companies. In short, Section 1504 neither unduly burdens American companies nor places them at an unfair disadvantage.

Third, in terms of domestic jobs in the extractive industries, the most important factor is domestic production. Both U.S. oil and gas production have increased significantly in recent years; oil production has almost doubled and the United States is now a net exporter of natural gas. Recent losses in energy jobs are due to an oversupplied global market and the policies of OPEC, not Section 1504.

Fourth, the United States maintains a competitive advantage in technology and experience in the extractive industries, especially for unconventional reserves. As traditional sources of oil and gas are depleted, energy companies are exploring these new types of reserves, such as deep marine basins and shale gas and oil. U.S. companies continue to enjoy a competitive advantage in exploiting new frontiers of oil and gas exploration. This, rather than the ability to make undisclosed payments to foreign governments, will ensure the future success of U.S. extractive firms.

Finally, even if kickbacks help a firm win an individual deal, systemic corruption introduces inefficiencies and reduces competitiveness and private sector development. This, in turn, hampers economic growth and limits opportunities for investment and trade that arise from better economic conditions. Corruption increases costs for U.S. firms and can introduce downward spirals of bribery, extortion, and escalating bureaucratic demands. Increasing transparency in the extractive industries, therefore, can improve the efficiency of the international marketplace, which benefits U.S. business.

Why then was repealing the SEC rule a priority for the Trump administration? Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was a fierce opponent of the SEC rule and personally lobbied to repeal it. President Trump and Secretary Tillerson favor an extractive industries business model that is not in line with best business practices, and may lead to collusion with corrupt foreign governments.

Corruption and poverty plague many resource-rich countries, a phenomenon known as the “resource curse.” In these resource-dependent countries, oppressive governments rely on resource revenues rather than a tax base and an independent private sector. This dependence weakens democratic checks and balances and allows corrupt elites to flourish at the expense of the general population. Section 1504 helps to target corruption in the extractive industries, making natural resources a blessing, not a curse.

Section 1504 is part of a growing international network promoting accountability and transparency for revenues paid to resource-rich countries. Repealing the SEC rule harms this positive trend, and does nothing to help U.S. companies and workers. Rather, it serves the interests of a small group of wealthy extractive industry executives who are clinging to an outdated model of business.

President Trump uses the phrases “unfair disadvantage” and “bringing back jobs” to obscure the real implications of revoking financial disclosures by resource extraction companies. As concerned citizens, we should not let this happen. Section 1504 is still on the books; only the regulation implementing the rule was quashed. The SEC, an independent agency, must issue a revised rule promptly.

Susan Rose-Ackerman is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University. She has been published widely in the fields of law, economics and public policy, and has edited nine books on aspects of corruption and administrative law.

Sinead Hunt is an attorney who graduated from Yale Law School in 2014.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.