- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler is renewing an effort to push federal financial regulators to require that publicly traded companies disclose their political spending.

The Democrat enlisted his counterparts in North Carolina, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont to sign a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White, a message unveiled Tuesday.

The treasurers say investors deserve to know whether corporate management is making political contributions that could damage the company’s brand and hurt profits.

“There are no serious business related reasons to justify denial of this information to shareholders,” Wheeler said in a conference call with reporters. “This is about the company’s bottom line, in which all shareholders and potential investors have an interest.”

The proposal has been a popular cause among some investors and politicians, primarily Democrats, since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for corporations to increase spending on political campaigns in 2010. More than 1 million comments have been submitted to the SEC, mostly form letters.

Critics of the proposed disclosure requirements say the SEC should not be regulating political speech, which they contend is the purview of Congress or the Federal Election Commission.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobbying group, called Wheeler’s letter and the Tuesday conference call “a desperate attempt to pressure the Commission to change its mind.”

“We hope the SEC will continue to see that this issue is not, has never been, and should never be a function of the SEC,” Blair Latoff Holmes said in an email.

A spokeswoman for the SEC declined to comment.

Wheeler is term-limited in his job as treasurer and is widely expected to seek another office. He first raised the issue of the corporate political spending in 2011.

When investors size up a business, they must consider the firm’s political connections, said Ian Simmons, co-founder and principal of Blue Haven Initiative, which invests globally. If a firm depends on strong political influence for a substantial share of revenue, investors need to know about the potential risks and reward, he said.

“We encourage Mary Jo White to stop the secrecy and create a better functioning market,” Simmons said. “It’s very difficult to evaluate how well management is in line with shareholder interests without key indicators like how are they using their political influence.”

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