Democrats block SEC nominees over political money fight

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Opposition from top Senate Democrats on Thursday stalled two of President Barack Obama's picks for the Securities and Exchange Commission over whether the nominees support requiring publicly-traded corporations to disclose political spending.

Nominees Lisa Fairfax, a Democrat, and Hester Peirce, a Republican, had waffled on the issue. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., were among four members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee opposing Obama's choices. That led the chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to postpone a vote set for Thursday.

Schumer said the nominees are "fence-sitting" on whether to force corporations such as Koch Industries to reveal their political giving. Republicans succeeded in blocking the proposal in last year's catch-all spending bill.

"The SEC needs commissioners who believe in and support campaign spending transparency," Schumer said. "I hope that both nominees will reconsider their fence-sitting on this critical issue before the vote, and make clear that they will support an SEC rule that will help root out secret money from our politics."

The opposition from Obama allies to Fairfax, the Democrat, was particularly unusual. Peirce, a conservative lawyer, was recommended by Republicans. Shelby planned to advance them together but held off after Schumer, Warren and Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., spoke out.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., voiced opposition to Fairfax as well, leaving the vote in doubt.

Consumer and liberal groups, and some Democratic lawmakers, have urged the SEC in recent years to adopt a rule requiring public companies to disclose political donations. Their argument is that shareholders, as owners of a company, should know which political candidates or causes are receiving their money.

In questioning by lawmakers, the agency's head, Mary Jo White, has not committed to getting the five-member commission to adopt such a rule.

Opponents have maintained that political spending is not the kind of relevant information that shareholders need to know about a company. Some Republican lawmakers have said that such a move by the SEC would be an abuse of regulatory power.

At their recent confirmation hearing before the committee, Fairfax and Peirce said the SEC appears to be prevented from approving such a rule by an amendment to budget legislation. Fairfax said she would consider the various arguments on the issue if confirmed.

Their responses angered Schumer, who said he leaned against approving them despite their evident qualifications for the positions. Menendez also said he was dissatisfied with the answers.

In a written follow-up, Fairfax evaded the question on disclosure of corporate political giving, saying she would not "prejudge any issue without the benefit of full engagement" and that she would "thoughtfully and carefully consider this issue."


This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.