By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: November 16, 2023 ~
Yesterday, five U.S. Senators who are members of the Senate Banking Committee issued a letter to Gary Gensler, the Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), demanding that he issue a rule that would force publicly-traded companies to disclose the dollar amount of their lobbying expenditures as well as the issues they are lobbying for or against.
The authors of the letter were: U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and John Fetterman (D-Pa.).
Publicly-traded companies are already forced to disclose in SEC filings matters that are deemed material to the financial health of the company or that may be a source of reputational risk. It makes good sense that the investing public should also know if a public company is lobbying for an issue that is contrary to the values of the investor.
The Senators explained as follows:
“In the absence of strong lobbying disclosure rules, investors are largely kept in the dark regarding the policy campaigns they are indirectly funding. 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. Indeed, research shows that companies and executives may lobby for policies that advance their own self-interests, including with respect to executive pay, even when these policies are at odds with investors’ interests. A company’s lobbying activity can also be a signal of the company’s overall health, with studies showing that firms with weak governance are more likely to engage in lobbying activity.”
According to data from OpenSecrets.org, the nonprofit watchdog of campaign finance and lobbying, in 2001, the year that Enron collapsed and filed bankruptcy, it had more than doubled its lobbying expenditures over the previous year to $5.14 million. Enron was a publicly-traded company. Its collapse impacted 58,920 shareholders. At the beginning of 2001, Enron’s market value stood at $70 billion. On the date of its bankruptcy filing on December 2, 2001, its shares were trading at $0.26 cents.
According to government records, in the year of Enron’s bankruptcy filing in 2001 it had the following registered lobbyists working for it (among numerous others): Ed Bethune, a former Congressman from Arkansas; Jim Chapman, a former Congressman from Texas; Charles Ingebretson, a former General Counsel of the House Commerce Committee; and Marc Racicot, a former Governor of Montana.
As the chart above indicates, last year there were 12,000 registered lobbyists whispering in the ears of members of Congress and federal agencies to obtain the desires of their corporate masters. The five Senators explain the real cost of this lobbying as follows:
“In 2022, total federal lobbying expenditures reached $4.1 billion – the highest since 2010. Amazon and Meta spent almost $20 million each to influence decision-making in Congress and across government agencies, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – which counts companies like JPMorgan Chase, Alphabet, and Chevron among its members – spent $79.4 million. While these figures are staggering, they provide little insight into the interests that companies spend millions each year to advance. 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. We, therefore, urge the Commission to implement new rules that require companies to disclose relevant details regarding their lobbying expenditures.”
The five Senators also note that there is a strong fundamental basis for the SEC to get busy on this rule, writing as follows:
“Since 2011, a coalition of investors have filed approximately 500 shareholder proposals asking companies to disclose their federal and state lobbying expenditures, and trade association and social welfare organization payments used to lobby. The proposals have achieved notable majorities or settlements at companies including Exxon and Travelers, and have led hundreds of companies to improve their disclosure, including shareholder proposal settlements at more than 110 companies. Despite these increased disclosures, the lack of uniform reporting remains a challenge for investors.”
The Senators gave SEC Chair Gensler until November 29 to provide them with “details regarding the Commission’s plan to develop and issue rules requiring the disclosure of corporate lobbyist expenditures to shareholders.”
Read the full letter here.
For how lobbyists and their bankrollers have corrupted the U.S. banking industry, see our September 21 report: Meet the Banking Cartel that Is Planting the Seeds for the Next Banking Panic and Bailout.