Corporations may be like people, too, sez SEC

Interesting stuff going down at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which is considering a requirement to force publicly traded companies to disclose political contributions.

Whoa! That could be huge. But at the front of the Ticked-Off Line are trade associations like the U.S. Chamber, which dropped $30 milllllllllllllllllllllllion last year on campaigns to beat Democrats. Trade associations are nonprofits, so they don’t have to list their donors — which is why companies like to funnel their political contributions through them.

The Chamber says such political contributions are so small that investors don’t need to worry about them. But since they’re, uh, not disclosed, investors don’t know if that’s true.

While overturning any aspect of the election finance-reshaping Citizens United Supreme Court decision have not gotten far, this proposed rule change got 322,000 favorable responses to a petition sent to the SEC, believed to be the most ever. Citizens United allowed for unlimited spending by corporations, unions and individuals.

But if publicly traded outfits had to disclose who they were giving campaign contributions to, they might be a little more reticent about alienating any potential customers. This will be interesting to follow.

Joe Garofoli