Bribery is bad.
It hurts our economy by making it hard for legitimate businesses to compete, and it hurts democracy by eroding the trust people have in public institutions.
That’s why we found it a bit shocking that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – an organization that purports to be on the side of all businesses – has spent so many resources over the past few years trying to weaken laws that keep big corporations from gaining an advantage through bribery.
A new U.S. Chamber Watch paper highlights the U.S. Chamber’s efforts to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (FCPA). This important law has been around since the 1970’s and prohibits companies from trading anything of value to public officials in exchange for favorable business treatment.
Seems pretty smart right?
Well, the U.S. Chamber dislikes the FCPA enough to ask for some rather startling changes to weaken its effectiveness.
At a briefing organized by Public Citizen as a part of the Corporate Reform Coalition on Wednesday, lawmakers, lawyers, and corporate governance experts made a strong case for a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rulemaking that would require publicly-traded companies to disclose their political spending.
The event was keynoted by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass). who were joined by Professors Robert Jackson and John Coates of Columbia and Harvard Law Schools, Pat Doherty of the New York State Comptroller’s Office, Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute, and Laura Berry, executive director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.
Speaking before a standing-room-only crowd, the panel pressed the SEC to listen to the overwhelming support for the rulemaking from shareholders, and to not bend to arguments that the rule would constitute an unwarranted political move by the agency.
Quotes and photos from the events are below. Don’t forget to weigh in in favor of the rule with the SEC!
Sen. Robert Menendez: “Disclosure of corporate political spending has, in my mind, very clear value for our democracy. It comes in the form of transparency. It comes by cleaning up campaign finance, and keeping the elections process fair and free of super-funded outside influence.”
The winning pumpkin in Public Citizen’s annual Pumpkin Carving Contest. This depicts an unsanitary, poorly regulated compounding pharmacy.
In addition to having super-smart, hard-charging and hard-working people here at Public Citizen, we have a great deal of creativity.
It goes on display every year at Halloween, when we have our magnificent Pumpkin Carving Contest (all caps for emphasis).
The event is just for us here at Public Citizen. It’s a chance for us to do something fun and different (sculpting and decorating is not really part of the “and other duties as assigned” clause of our job descriptions).
Each department receives a pumpkin and has the day to carve and decorate it. Judging occurs later in the day at a small party we have here at our Dupont Circle headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The pumpkins get more elaborate every year. Suffice it to say that some departments start brainstorming pumpkin themes several weeks in advance of Contest Day.
This week, the research department here at Public Citizen released a paper that reminded us just how big the footprint of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has.
For those that don’t know, the U.S. Chamber has spent more than $1 billion on lobbying since 1998. And that’s in addition to all the money it has spent on elections – $35+ million in 2012 alone.
The report also reminded us just how secret this money is.
While 24 donors to the U.S. Chamber (23 of whom are Fortune 500 companies) voluntarily disclosed their contributions, the rest are mostly a mystery.
And while it’s great that 23 of the top 500 companies in the world have chosen to disclose, that still leaves us in the dark about many others.
Meaning those that invest in these companies and those who buy their products have very little knowledge of what kind of political stances their dollars are supporting.
All the more reason why the Securities and Exchange Commission should adopt a pending rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose donations made to groups like the U.S. Chamber.
Transparency plays a key role in protecting our democracy and it’s important we fight for it.
Send a message to the Securities and Exchange Commission in support of the political spending disclosure rulemaking.
Jake Parent is the coordinator of Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch. To learn more about Chamber Watch, follow @uschamberwatch on Twitter and sign up for email updates
The U.S. dodged another bullet last week with an 11th hour deal to open to the government and raise the country’s borrowing limit. We’ll do the debt ceiling dance again in a few months, but for now at least our national parks are open, thousands of government employees are back to work and we can finally catch that fox on the White House grounds.
But what we can’t do is become complacent about the daily dysfunction that grips our government.
This Congress, the Congress that has brought us the debt ceiling crisis, the sequester, and the debt ceiling take two, is the very same that came into office via the two most expensive congressional elections in history.
Could it be a coincidence that our most expensive elections yield our most rigidly ideological Congresses? Sure.
Is that likely? Probably not.