Pressure builds on disclosure

Securities and Exchange officials are coming under increasing pressure to make corporations more forthcoming about what they spend on politics.

Advocates for an SEC rule requiring companies to disclose how much they spend on political activities are also hoping for change. When SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White took over the agency in 2013, the SEC had on its regulatory agenda to propose a political spending rule following a petition filed in 2011 by a group of prominent law professors, which has since collected 1.2 million comments. However, the rule has since been taken off the agenda, with Ms. White pleading limited resources.

That didn’t convince many critics, including former SEC chairmen William Donaldson and Arthur Levitt and former Commissioner Bevis Longstreth, who urged Ms. White in a May letter to address the agency’s “inexplicable” inaction on the issue, which they said, “should be a ‘slam dunk’ for the SEC.”

Letters sent in April and May by a group of 70 foundations and the treasurers of North Carolina, Rhode Island, Washington, Vermont and Oregon pressed the case as well. “Secret political spending continues to be a top issue in the investment world” that needs a comprehensive system of disclosure, the treasurers wrote.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., is sponsoring a bill to force the SEC to act, but House Republicans have threatened to bar the SEC from spending any money on the rulemaking.