Political Spending: Congress Might Remove Roadblock to SEC Action
John blogged last December about a provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 restricting the SEC from finalizing a rule requiring company political spending disclosures. So as much as it could be a while before the SEC could take action relating to company political spending, Congress has shown interest in allowing it to happen.
First, H.R. 1, the For the People Act has not only been introduced in the House, but it also passed. The bill would require additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending. The Shareholder Protection Act of 2021, which has been introduced in the Senate, takes things a bit further.
The Senate bill, would among other things, require political spending disclosure and prohibit company political spending unless it has been approved by shareholders. Cydney Posner, in a Cooley blog, runs through some of the bill’s other requirements, which include penalties for officers or directors who authorize any political contribution expenditures without shareholder approval.
Members of the Commission have also expressed interest in the topic. Although a lot of commentary about SEC interest in ESG disclosures centers on climate risk, another topic Acting Chair Lee addressed in a speech last week was political spending disclosure. In her speech, Acting Chair Lee said political spending disclosure deserves attention and that it’s “inextricably linked to ESG issues.”
As a potential sign the Commission wants to take action in this area, some may have read commentary that Gary Gensler, the nominee for SEC Chair, and Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw each voiced interest too. Back in early March at his Senate confirmation hearing to serve as SEC Chair, Gary Gensler expressed support for the SEC to consider company political spending disclosures. Commissioner Crenshaw recently expressed her thoughts on company political spending disclosures in a HLS Corporate Governance post co-authored with HBS Professor Michael Porter. In that post, Commissioner Crenshaw urges business leaders to call on Congress and the SEC to provide investors with political spending disclosures.
After the events of January 6, interest in company political spending has certainly intensified. One sign that this increased interest has had an impact can be found in company announcements about pausing political contribution activity. More recently, Popular Information reported that at least two companies have paused or suspended contributions in response to voter suppression bills introduced in Arizona. Although far from certain (see commentary in yesterday’s NYT Dealbook column about Senator Pat Toomey’s letter to Acting Chair Lee), it’s possible company pauses on political contributions will lead to some Congressional action. As Cydney observes in her blog, if the Senate bill is signed into law, political spending and more will be on the SEC’s plate.
-Lynn Jokela, TheCorporateCounsel.net March 26, 2021
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