When the Supreme Court — in our view wrongly — ruled that corporations had a constitutional right to spend their money to influence elections, it also said that disclosure of such expenditures "permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way." In that spirit, the Securities and Exchange Commission should heed a petition drive to require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending to investors.
So far more than 500,000 Americans have signed a petition asking the SEC to mandate the disclosure of political spending by corporations, including direct expenditures such as advertising campaigns and contributions to political committees, trade associations and nonprofit organizations.
A significant number of corporations already share information about their spending on politics. In a 2011 letter to the SEC requesting a disclosure rule, 10 law professors noted that nearly 60% of companies on the S&P 100 Index had adopted policies requiring disclosure of such spending to shareholders.
So should the remaining companies be required to follow suit? Opponents make two arguments. The first is that advocates for disclosure have an ulterior motive: to intimidate the business community into withdrawing from political advocacy. That may be true, but it's also irrelevant. Besides, if a company's management can convince investors that its political activities increase shareholder value, it has nothing to fear from disclosure.