Exclusive: 5 Senate Banking Dems demand more details on corporate lobbying strategy

In a letter Wednesday shared exclusively with The Hill, five Democrats who sit on the Senate Banking Committee urged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require companies to disclose more details on their corporate lobbying strategy to shareholders.

The senators want the SEC to develop a new rule that would “require registered companies to disclose, as relevant, any lobbying strategy, the aggregate amount of direct or indirect contributions to registered state and federal lobbyists, and any material risks related to or arising from the registrant’s lobbying strategy and expenditures.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) as well as Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) signed onto the letter.

“Chair [Gary] Gensler will respond to Members of Congress directly, rather than through the media,” an SEC spokesperson told The Hill.

Federal lobbying expenditures hit $4.1 billion in 2022, the highest level since 2010, according to disclosures analyzed by the money-in-politics research group OpenSecrets.

This year is on track to outpace that spending: Registrants have disclosed more than $3.13 billion spent on federal lobbying in the first nine months of 2023, up from $3.07 billion spent through the same period in 2022, according to OpenSecrets data.

“While these figures are staggering, they provide little insight into the interests that companies spend millions each year to advance,” the senators wrote in the letter.

“This lack of transparency erodes the ability of everyday investors to make informed decisions about where to invest their money – and where their money goes once they have invested.”

All registered lobbyists are required to file quarterly disclosures with the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and secretary of the U.S. Senate that include the top-line total spent on federal lobbying, any specific issues they lobbied on and former government positions held by the lobbyists on the account.

But registrants are not required to disclose details including whether they lobbied for or against specific legislation or regulations, even as the lobbying activities of a company can carry reputational risks to its investors.

There’s growing demand for this kind of information among some investors. A cohort of investors, advocacy groups and unions called the Corporate Reform Coalition has filed hundreds of shareholder proposals since 2011 asking companies to improve their disclosures.

“Maybe they say they lobby on this bill or that bill, but that’s not going to provide investors with any real insight into why their companies are lobbying the federal government,” Jon Golinger, the democracy advocate at Public Citizen, a member of the coalition, told The Hill.

The coalition supports more robust disclosure for investors that includes why companies are lobbying on an issue, how much they’re spending on it and what they’re hoping to accomplish, Golinger added.

The senators gave the SEC until Nov. 29 to provide details on its own plan.

“In the absence of strong lobbying disclosure rules, investors are largely kept in the dark regarding the policy campaigns they are indirectly funding,” the senators warned.

“This raises concerns that investors may be funding lobbying activities that are counter to the stated missions of the companies they have invested in, that are counter to their own beliefs, or that may even erode the value of their investment.”

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