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Put the American people first: Keep the anti-corruption rule

One lesson from President Trump’s election is, as he said in his inaugural speech, the interests of citizens should prevail over the powerful special interests in Washington. Yet some politicians now want to do just the opposite, and cancel a pioneering anti-corruption law that bolsters American national security, advances our humanitarian goals, and demonstrates U.S. moral leadership.

The bipartisan Cardin-Lugar amendment, aimed at fighting corruption in mineral-rich developing countries, was enacted in 2010 as Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank reform bill. It requires that oil, gas and mining companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges (whether or not U.S.-based) disclose their royalties and other payments to foreign governments.  History shows that many resource-rich countries are actually poor because the vast mineral revenues breed corruption that leads to poverty, hunger and instability. Oil-rich Venezuela is running out of food and medicine.  Nigeria, with vast reserves, is gripped by economic crisis and terrorism.

{mosads}This “resource curse” is not only a tragedy for the citizens of these countries, it impacts Americans, too. It has empowered anti-American dictators in Iraq, Libya and Syria. It worsens global poverty, which can be a seedbed for terrorism, as in Yemen. It dulls the effect of our foreign assistance, and it can lead to instability that crimps global oil supplies and raises pump prices for American motorists.

One way to fight this corruption, waste and mismanagement is to reveal just how much money the autocrats are making from their oil, gas, copper, gold and other resources. These vast sums are often secrets known only to the governments and the international extractive industry companies who pay them. Disclosure of these funds shifts power from the elites to the citizens so they can “follow the money” and hold governments accountable.

That’s why we sought a mandatory extractive industries disclosure rule. The Big Oil lobby strongly opposed the legislation and fought the rule in court. But we felt it was important to assert America’s traditional role as a global leader in fighting corruption.

American leadership paid off: the European Union promptly moved to enact nearly identical legislation, as did Canada, with support of its global mining companies. Cardin-Lugar has become an international norm, with 80 percent of the world’s largest oil, gas and mining firms now covered. Already in Europe, majors like Shell, BP and France’s Total have filed disclosure reports, as have state-controlled Russian firms Rosneft and gas giant Gazprom. Once Cardin-Lugar reporting starts for U.S.-listed firms in 2019, state companies from China and Brazil will be disclosing.

But now Big Oil is back, seeking repeal of Cardin-Lugar so their payments can be kept secret from the people. They claim they will be at a competitive disadvantage to foreigners, or they’ll have to reveal commercially sensitive information. 

But events since Cardin-Lugar passed render such fears unfounded. With Europe and Canada in the same disclosure system, the playing field is now level. And the companies already filing have suffered no commercial harm nor revealed vital secrets.

Section 1504 was specifically ordered by Congress and promulgated after years of rulemaking and court review. It won’t cost a single American job. Everything the oil companies can legally do today is still allowed once Cardin-Lugar takes effect. They will only have to do one more thing—send in their numbers. Besides Big Oil, those most eager to repeal Cardin-Lugar are the autocrats, in places like Russia, Iran or Venezuela, with oil wells, gas fields or copper mines who want to keep the money secret from their citizens. Why do their bidding?

Most important, at a time of tight budgets, Cardin -Lugar is our most affordable and effective means to make a difference in many underdeveloped nations.  Cast it aside and we are undoing a clear act of moral leadership, turning our back on corruption. This would betray our own principles and severely undercut our allies in Europe and Canada. It would cost countless lives over the long run and harm our security.

Some Americans would shut out the world and let poor countries stew in their own problems. But most, including many in our churches, recognize that we have important development goals consistent with our military interests and our history as a moral nation.  Cardin-Lugar advances those goals without burdening the taxpayer. It’s the kind of creative solution to global problems that our leaders should be embracing, not rejecting at the behest of a single industry. Let’s put American interests first, ahead of the special interests, and retain Cardin-Lugar.

Former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), President of The Lugar Center, was chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is the current ranking member of the Committee.

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

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