Tag: Citizens United v. FEC


Hindering the SEC From Shining a Light on Political Spending

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as the principal draftsmen of the rulemaking petition that the Committee on the Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending submitted to the SEC. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

In a New York Times DealBook column published today, Hindering the S.E.C. From Shining a Light on Political Spending, we discuss the addition to the omnibus budget agreement of a rider to prevent the SEC from issuing next year a rule that would require public companies to disclose their political spending. This unusual Congressional intervention in S.E.C. rulemaking, we argue, is a troubling development both for investors and for the agency.

In July 2011 we co-chaired a bipartisan committee of 10 corporate and securities law professors that considered this issue and submitted to the SEC a rule-making petition urging the development of rules requiring public companies to disclose their spending on politics. To date, the agency has received more than 1.2 million comments on the proposal—far more comments than those submitted on any rule-making petition in its history.

With submissions to the SEC expressing overwhelming support for the petition, the rider reflects opponents’ interest in avoiding a debate on the merits. The rider also hurts the standing of the S.E.C., and undermines the critical premises upon which the Supreme Court has relied in its Citizens United decision.

The column is available here.

19 Law Professors Submit Amicus Brief in Union Political Spending Case

John C. Coates is the John F. Cogan, Jr. Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School. This post relates to a brief submitted by 19 law professors, led by Professor Coates, in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The amicus brief is available here.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that under the First Amendment, the government could not restrict a corporation’s independent political spending, even in the interest of aligning corporate expression with shareholders’ views. In contrast, an earlier Court case, Abood v. Detroit of Board of Education, conditioned the ability of unions to use fees from non-members for political spending on a mechanism for non-members to opt out of fees not directly used in collective bargaining. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Associationcurrently awaiting oral argument in the Court’s October Term 2015—again deals with speech by labor unions, which the Supreme Court has compared to speech by corporations.

Presently, California requires that public schoolteachers either join the California Teachers Union or pay “agency fees” to compensate the union for its efforts on their behalf. Plaintiffs, a group of teachers, argue that these fees constitute forced subsidization of the union’s speech. Pinning their claim to the First Amendment, plaintiffs are seeking to invalidate agency fees altogether, or else require non-union members to affirmatively consent to subsidizing the union’s speech. In effect, plaintiffs are seeking to overturn Abood, converting an opt-out to an opt-in. The CTU, on the other hand, argues that the opt-out already required by Abood means that non-union teachers are not forced to pay for union speech at all.

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Corporate Power Ratchet

Leo E. Strine, Jr. is Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, the Austin Wakeman Scott Lecturer on Law and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. This post is based on Chief Justice Strine’s recent essay, Corporate Power Ratchet: The Courts’ Role in Eroding “We the People’s” Ability to Constrain Our Corporate Creations forthcoming in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and issued earlier as a working paper of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. Related research on corporate political spending from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Originalist or Original: The Difficulties of Reconciling Citizens United with Corporate Law History, and Conservative Collision Course?: The Tension between Conservative Corporate Law Theory and Citizens United, both by Leo Strine and Nicholas Walter (discussed on the Forum here and here), and Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending and Corporate Political Speech: Who Decides?, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert Jackson (discussed on the Forum here and here).

Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, the Austin Wakeman Scott Lecturer on Law and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, recently issued an essay that is forthcoming in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. The essay, titled Corporate Power Ratchet: The Courts’ Role in Eroding “We the People’s” Ability to Constrain Our Corporate Creations, is available here. The abstract of Chief Justice Strine’s essay summarizes it as follows:

At the beginning of our nation and throughout much of our history, corporations, as the creation of society, were seen as distinctive from human citizens. Human beings were born with certain inalienable rights that government could not take away. By contrast, corporations were the opposite of Lockean-Jeffersonian citizens, in the sense that they had only such rights as society gave them. Under this understanding, society could charter corporations and benefit from their wealth-creating potential while reserving for itself the right to limit corporate activities through externality-reducing legislation and other means so as to protect the public interest.

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Fifty-Eight Members of the US House of Representatives Support the Rulemaking Petition for Transparency in Corporate Political Spending

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

We are pleased to report that a group of fifty-eight members of the House of Representatives last week sent a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White expressing support for the rulemaking petition on corporate political spending submitted by the committee of corporate and securities law experts that we co-chaired. We are delighted that these fifty-eight members of the House of Representatives have added their voices to the unprecedented support that our petition has already received.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee on the disclosure of corporate political spending and served as the principal draftsmen of the rulemaking petition that the committee submitted. The petition urged the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their spending on politics. To date, the SEC has received more than 1.2 million comments on the proposal—more than any rulemaking petition in the Commission’s history.

Taking notice of the overwhelming support that the petition had received, the SEC placed consideration of the petition on its regulatory agenda in 2013. Unfortunately, Chair Mary Jo White encountered significant political pressure to remove the petition from the Commission’s agenda, and the Commission chose to delay consideration of rules in this area.

In their letter, the fifty-eight Representatives stated that they are writing to “express [their] support for” the rulemaking petition. They urged the SEC chair “to reconsider the frustrating decision to remove corporate political disclosure from the regulatory agenda and make corporate political disclosure a top priority for protecting investors.”

The Representatives’ letter that forty-four Senators sent Chair White in August. The Senators’ letter stated that the Chair should make the petition “a top priority for the SEC in the near term, and inform [the Senators] of the basis for [the SEC Chair’s] decision should [the SEC Chair] not plan to include it on the Commission’s agenda for the upcoming year.” Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of former SEC officials (including former Chairmen Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson) sent a letter to SEC Chair White stating that the petition is a “slam dunk” and that the SEC’s failure to act “flies in the face of the primary mission of the Commission, which since 1934 has been the protection of investors.”

As we have discussed in previous posts on the Forum, the case for rules requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is compelling. Moreover, as we showed in our article Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, a close examination of the objections that opponents of such rules have raised indicates that these objections, both individually and in combination, fail to provide an adequate basis for opposing rules that would mandate the disclosure of corporate political spending to investors. The SEC should proceed with rulemaking in this area without further delay.

The fifty-eight members of the House of Representatives who signed the letter (available here) supporting the rulemaking petition are:

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Hillary Clinton Announces Support for SEC Rulemaking on Corporate Political Spending

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

We are pleased that Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton just announced her support for SEC rulemaking that would require public companies to disclose their political spending to their shareholders.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee on the disclosure of corporate political spending and served as the principal draftsmen of the rulemaking petition that the committee submitted. The petition urged the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their spending on politics. To date, the SEC has received more than 1.2 million comments on the proposal—far more comments than those submitted on any rulemaking petition in the Commission’s history.

A statement just released by the Clinton campaign expressed Clinton’s support for “SEC rulemaking requiring publicly traded companies to disclose all political spending to their shareholders.” It further indicated that “Clinton believes that information about how corporate funds are being used to fuel political activity and influence elected officials is material to investment decisions and should be made available to shareholders.”

In addition to Clinton’s announcement, there have been recently other notable expressions of support for the rulemaking petition. Last week, forty-four U.S. Senators sent a letter to the SEC chair to “express [their] support” for the rulemaking petition” and requested that the SEC Chair make the petition “a top priority for the SEC in the near term” (discussed on the Forum here). Earlier, in a letter in support of the rulemaking petition, former SEC Chairmen Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson and former Commissioner Bevis Longstreth stated that the rulemaking proposed in the petition is a “slam dunk” and that the SEC’s failure to act “flies in the face of the primary mission of the Commission, which since 1934 has been the protection of investors” (discussed on the Forum here).

As we have discussed in previous posts on the Forum, the case for rules requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is compelling. Moreover, as our article Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending shows, a close examination of the full range of objections that opponents of such rules have raised indicates that these objections, both individually and collectively, fail to provide an adequate basis for opposing rules that would make disclose corporate political spending to investors. The SEC should proceed to rulemaking in this area.

Forty-Four U.S. Senators Support the Rulemaking Petition for Transparency in Corporate Political Spending

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

We are pleased to report that this week a group of forty-four U.S. Senators sent a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White expressing support for the rulemaking petition on corporate political spending submitted by the committee of corporate and securities law experts that we co-chaired. We are delighted that forty-four Senators have added their voices to the unprecedented support that the petition has already received.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee on the disclosure of corporate political spending and served as the principal draftsmen of the rulemaking petition that the committee submitted. The petition urged the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their spending on politics. To date, the SEC has received more than 1.2 million comments on the proposal—more than any rulemaking petition in the Commission’s history.

The forty-four Senators’ letter begins by stating that they “write to express [their] support” for the rulemaking petition. They go on to state their belief that the disclosure rules advocated by the petition are “consistent with the SEC’s requirement for public companies to disclose meaningful financial information to the public.” They express appreciation to the SEC Chair’s “willingness to strongly consider the importance of this rulemaking.” They conclude by asking that the SEC Chair make the petition “a top priority for the SEC in the near term, and inform [the Senators] of the basis for [the SEC Chair’s] decision should [the SEC Chair] not plan to include it on the Commission’s agenda for the upcoming year.”

The Senators’ letters refers to a prior letter in support of the rulemaking petition that was sent to the SEC by a bipartisan group of former SEC officials. In this letter, former SEC Chairmen Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson and former Commissioner Bevis Longstreth stated that the rulemaking proposed in the petition is a “slam dunk” and that the SEC’s failure to act “flies in the face of the primary mission of the Commission, which since 1934 has been the protection of investors.”

As we have discussed in previous posts on the Forum, the case for rules requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is compelling. Unfortunately, the Commission has so far chosen to delay consideration of rules in this area. The delay is unfortunate and unwarranted in light of the strong arguments for disclosure put forward in the rulemaking petition and the remarkable and broad support that the petition has received. Moreover, as we showed in our article Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, a close examination of the objections that opponents of such rules have raised indicates that these objections, both individually and in combination, fail to provide an adequate basis for opposing rules that would make disclose corporate political spending to investors.

The letter of the forty-four Senators highlights the remarkable level of support that the rulemaking petition has received. The SEC should proceed with rulemaking in this area without further delay.

The forty-four U.S. Senators who signed the letter supporting the rulemaking petition are:

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Congress Should Let the SEC Do its Job

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee included in its 2016 appropriations bill for financial services agencies a provision that would prevent the SEC from developing rules that would require public companies to disclose their political spending. Although this provision is unlikely to become law, its adoption is regrettable. In our view, Congress should let the SEC do its job and use its expert judgment—free of political pressures in any direction—to determine what information should be disclosed to public-company investors.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law academics that petitioned the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. The SEC has now received over 1.2 million comments on the proposal—more than any rulemaking petition in the SEC’s history. As we have explained in previous posts on the Forum, the case for rules requiring disclosure of corporate spending is compelling. Unfortunately, Chairman Mary Jo White has faced significant political pressure not to develop such rules, and the Commission has so far chosen to delay consideration of rules in this area.

As we explained in earlier posts on the Forum (see, for example, posts here and here), we view this delay as regrettable in light of the compelling arguments in favor of disclosure and the breadth of support that the petition has received. Furthermore, as we explain in detail in our article Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, an analysis of the full range of objections that opponents of transparency have raised makes clear that these opponents have failed to provide a convincing basis for keeping corporate political spending below investors’ radar screen.

We agree with the bipartisan group of three former SEC Commissioners who just last month referred to the SEC’s inaction on the petition as “inexplicable.” At a minimum, the broad support and compelling arguments in favor of disclosure of corporate spending on politics make clear that the Commission should move promptly to consider the petition on the merits. Unfortunately, last week’s move by the Appropriations Committee reflects another attempt to avoid consideration of the rulemaking petition on its merits. Members of Congress should not try to prevent the SEC from even considering the substantive merits of the petition.

While corporate political spending is an issue that politicians are naturally interested in, our petition focuses on whether investors should receive information regarding political spending at the companies they own. That is an issue that falls squarely within the SEC’s mandate and expertise. Regardless of their views on corporate political spending, Congressmen of all stripes should avoid interfering with the Commission’s rulemaking processes. We urge them to allow the SEC to do its job.

Bipartisan Group of Former SEC Commissioners Support the Rulemaking Petition for Transparency in Corporate Political Spending

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

We are pleased to report that a bipartisan group of three distinguished former SEC Commissioners—former Chairman William Donaldson, former Chairman Arthur Levitt, and former Commissioner Bevis Longstreth—last week submitted to the SEC a letter urging the Commission to move forward with the rulemaking we proposed in our petition on corporate political spending. We are delighted that this distinguished group of former Commissioners is adding its voice to the massive and unprecedented support that the petition has already received.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law experts that submitted a rulemaking petition urging the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. The SEC has thus far received more than 1.2 million comments on the proposal—more than any rulemaking petition in the SEC’s history.

The three former SEC Commissioners who have now come out in support of our petition bring a rich and telling set of perspectives and experiences to this issue. William Donaldson, a Republican, was appointed by President George W. Bush after having previously served in the Nixon Administration and served as SEC Chairman from 2003 to 2005. Arthur Levitt, a Democrat, was appointed by President Bill Clinton and served as SEC Chairman from 1993 to 2001. And Bevis Longstreth, a Democrat, was twice appointed to the SEC by President Ronald Reagan, serving as a Commissioner from 1981 to 1984.

As we have discussed in previous posts on the Forum, the case for rules requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is compelling. Unfortunately, Chairman Mary Jo White has faced significant political pressure not to develop such rules, and the Commission has so far chosen to delay consideration of rules in this area. The delay is unfortunate and unwarranted in light of the strong arguments for disclosure put forward in the rulemaking petition and the remarkable and broad support that the petition has received. Moreover, as we showed in our article Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending an examination of the full range of objections that opponents of such rules have so far been able to raise indicates that these objections, both individually and in combination, fail to provide an adequate basis for opposing such rules.

In the letter submitted last week by the bipartisan group of three distinguished former SEC Commissioners, the authors opined that it is a “slam dunk” for the SEC to move forward with rules that would shine light on corporate spending on politics. We are delighted that these distinguished former Commissioners share our view that the case for mandating disclosure of corporate political spending is compelling. The SEC should proceed with rulemaking in this area without further delay.

Supporters of Transparency Should Work with the SEC, Not Take it to Court

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law experts that petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. As reflected on the SEC’s webpage for comments filed on the petition, the SEC has now received more than 1.2 million comments on the proposal—more than any rulemaking petition in the SEC’s history. Earlier this week, a suit was filed in the federal court for the District of Columbia, relying in part on our petition and the broad support it has received, seeking an injunction requiring the SEC to initiate rulemaking on the subject. As explained below, this litigation is unhelpful to the broadly supported effort to obtain disclosure that would shed light on corporate political spending.

To be sure, we are disappointed that the SEC has not yet started the rulemaking process urged by our petition. At the end of 2012, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance acknowledged the widespread support for the petition, and the Commission placed the proposal on its regulatory agenda for 2013. Unfortunately, Chairman Mary Jo White faced considerable political pressure from Congress not to develop rules that would require disclosure of corporate spending on politics, and the Commission has thus far delayed any further consideration of rules in this area. As we explained in earlier posts on the Forum (see, for example, posts here and here), we view the delay as unfortunate and unwarranted in light of the compelling arguments for disclosure, the breadth of support that the petition has received, and the weakness of the objections that opponents have been able to raise.

While the SEC would do well to initiate rulemaking without further delay, we view the attempt to force the Commission to act through court action as unhelpful for two reasons. First, while the SEC’s delay in initiating rulemaking is regrettable, the SEC’s behavior thus far does not come close to satisfying the demanding conditions for judicial intervention. The court should thus not be expected to provide the injunction requested by the lawsuit.

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The Difficulties of Reconciling Citizens United with Corporate Law History

The following post is based on a recent article earlier issued as a working paper of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, by Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court and a Senior Fellow of the Program, and Nicholas Walter, associate in the litigation department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The article, Originalist or Original: The Difficulties of Reconciling Citizens United with Corporate Law History, is available here. Related research from the authors includes Conservative Collision Course?: The Tension between Conservative Corporate Law Theory and Citizens United, discussed on the Forum here. Research from the Program on Corporate Governance about corporate political spending includes Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert Jackson, discussed on the Forum here, Corporate Political Speech: Who Decides? by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert Jackson, available here. and Conservative Collision Course?: The Tension between Conservative Corporate Law Theory and Citizens United by Leo Strine and Nicholas Walter, discussed on the Forum here.

Citizens United has been the subject of a great deal of commentary, but one important aspect of the decision that has not been explored in detail is the historical basis for Justice Scalia’s claims in his concurring opinion that the majority holding is consistent with originalism. In this article, we engage in a deep inquiry into the historical understanding of the rights of the business corporation as of 1791 and 1868—two periods relevant to an originalist analysis of the First Amendment. Based on the historical record, Citizens United is far more original than originalist, and if the decision is to be justified, it has to be on jurisprudential grounds originalists traditionally disclaim as illegitimate. The article is available on SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2564708.

Citizens United v. FEC struck down McCain-Feingold’s restraints on electoral expenditures by corporations. In his concurring opinion, Justice Scalia argued that the decision could be justified through the originalist approach to constitutional interpretation. In particular, Justice Scalia asserted that there was “no evidence” that, at the time of the Founding, corporations were not subject to government regulation of their ability to spend money to advocate the election or defeat of political candidates.

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