Apr 4, 2017

Exclusive: Dems fight back in oil money transparency battle

Ben Geman, author of Generate

Svetoslov Nikolov via Flickr CC

Democrats are launching a new push to revive a stalled effort to force oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments for projects in their countries.

Happening today: 12 Senate Democrats led by Ben Cardin will urge the Securities and Exchange Commission in a letter to "promptly" re-issue the disclosure regulation that's required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law.

They lost the last round big time: In February, Congress and the Trump administration, backed by some major oil companies (like Exxon) and business groups, nullified a 2016 version of the rule with a resolution passed under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Why it matters: Cardin joins human rights groups who say the transparency law is a key weapon against the "resource curse" — the corruption, conflict, and poverty that often afflicts energy-producing nations in Africa and elsewhere. Cardin, who co-authored the Dodd-Frank disclosure mandate with then-GOP Sen. Richard Lugar, also says the disclosures will give needed info to investors.

But powerful oil companies and business groups have lobbied hard and spent years battling the efforts in court, arguing that disclosing payments in public SEC filings will put SEC-regulated energy companies at a competitive disadvantage when bidding for contracts abroad.

Regulation status? It's complicated: The CRA, a product of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America that Republicans are giving a heavy workout for the first time, bars regulators from issuing another rule in substantially the same form.

  • That leaves the SEC in wholly uncharted waters. It must craft a regulation that meets the detailed instructions of one law (Dodd-Frank) even though an earlier version of the rule was wiped away by another.
  • The lawmakers' letter says the CRA resolution's passage doesn't change the SEC's obligation to issue a disclosure rule that's "fully compliant" with the Dodd-Frank requirements, and free of loopholes that some major oil companies have sought.

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