WASHINGTON -- The Securities and Exchange Commission is not currently writing a rule to require public corporations to disclose their political contributions, despite a major push by a coalition of progressive and campaign finance reform groups, said SEC Chair Mary Jo White during testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday.
"No one is working on a proposed rule," White said in response to questioning from Republican committee members.
The Corporate Reform Coalition has advocated mandating that public companies tell their shareholders about political spending, using a petition to the SEC that has received more than 500,000 comments. White said the SEC's review of that petition is "not completed."
Lisa Gilbert, director of Congress Watch at the consumer reform group Public Citizen, which is a leader in the Corporate Reform Coalition, told The Huffington Post that White's comment, while not a "helpful statement," does not mean that the SEC will not eventually respond to the petition by drafting such a rule.
"It's still on the agenda," Gilbert said. "The fact that there's not a staffer assigned to write it today is not demonstrative of whether they'll be taking it up in short order, and we hope and believe they will."
Consideration of a potential rule remains on the agency's long-term agenda, where it was placed by the previous SEC chair, Mary Schapiro, at the end of her term.
The reform coalition is pushing the disclosure requirement as a response to the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which allowed corporations, unions and, after a subsequent court ruling, individuals to spend unlimited sums of money on political activities so long as that spending remained independent from candidates and political parties. The coalition argues that corporations are taking advantage of loopholes created by the decision that allow corporate contributions made for political campaign spending to go undisclosed when they are given to trade groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or social welfare nonprofits, like the American Action Network and Crossroads GPS.
Opponents of a potential disclosure rule contend that the SEC is ill-suited to properly regulate political spending and that disclosure is only being sought to publicly pressure corporations to stop funding political activities altogether.