McConnell threatens shutdown to keep corporate political spending secret

Greg Nash

Most Americans are worried about too much secret corporate money in politics, and this week, Republicans in Congress seem to be doing everything in their power to justify those fears.

In the midst of a close national election, Senate Republicans are risking a government shutdown at midnight on Oct. 1 for two reasons: to keep the citizens of Flint, Michigan from getting long-needed federal aid and to keep corporate political spending hidden from the voters.

{mosads}As Congress and the White House negotiate over the final details of a continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is demanding the inclusion of a poison pill policy rider to keep political money from big corporations a secret.

The rider would block the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from working on a rule to require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending. This rider is one of the main sticking points standing in the way of a deal to keep the government open.

Congressional Democrats have called for the exclusion of the rider, and the White House announced that it will not likely agree to a CR that includes a provision keeping special interest money secret.

McConnell’s push to include the rider in the CR is a clear marker of its importance to congressional Republicans and undoubtedly to the big donors and corporate-funded super-PACs who back their campaigns.

Setting aside the horrendous optics of threatening a shutdown to hide the identities of big corporate donors, it is also highly irregular and profoundly inappropriate to include significant policymaking provisions of any kind in a CR, which is simply supposed to extend status quo funding levels.

With the deadline for a deal just days away, it is imperative that Congress reject poison pill policy riders — including the SEC disclosure rider — to avoid a disruptive and costly government shutdown. Even if this rider remains in the CR for the next two months, it must be taken out of the omnibus funding package to be negotiated later in the year.

The need for a disclosure rule on corporate political spending is clear. Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, corporate money has flooded into the electoral process, to the tune of billions of dollars. Much of it has been channeled through dark money conduits like nonprofits and trade associations. Investors should not be left in the dark as to whether executives are spending funds on political causes that may run counter to shareholder interests.

More than 1.2 million Americans, along with securities experts and institutional and individual investors, have pressed the SEC for a rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending. Last year, a bipartisan group of three former SEC chairs and commissioners urged the commission to take action, noting that a rule on corporate political spending disclosure fits squarely within the primary mission of the SEC: to protect investors.

A CR is neither the time nor the place for a debate over campaign finance regulations. The American people deserve a clean bill free from harmful riders.

Gilbert is the director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. She co-chairs the Corporate Reform Coalition, a group of investors, nongovernmental organizations, securities experts and public interest groups in favor of the SEC’s disclosure rule. She also co-chairs the Clean Budget Coalition, more than 200 organizations fighting to keep harmful riders out of the appropriations process.

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

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