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We, the Corporations?

CHICAGO – You would think that 600,000 comments on a petition would be sufficient to bring an issue to the top of the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s agenda. But public opinion does not seem to matter if the issue is mandatory disclosure of political spending by corporations.

Denying rumors that such a rule will be promulgated soon, SEC Chair Mary Jo White recently told lawmakers that this issue is not at the top of her list of priorities. But it is at the forefront of the Republican Party’s concerns, reflecting its leaders’ determination to prevent any such requirement from taking effect. In April, Ann Wagner, a Republican congresswoman, introduced a bill “to prohibit the Securities and Exchange Commission from issuing rules requiring the disclosure of an issuer’s expenditures for political activities.”

The reason why such an apparently minor issue is gaining so much attention is that it transcends corporate governance and goes to the very essence of America’s democratic system. For this reason, it is important to understand what is at stake.

Freedom of expression is a core democratic principle. Integral to this freedom is the right to spend money to disseminate speech. Any limitation on spending is a limitation on freedom of speech itself.