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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week brought a new and maybe decisive turn in a high-stakes fight over how much oil and mining companies should reveal about payments to foreign governments.

Driving the news: The Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to finalize disclosure rules required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law. But the panel's Democrats and human rights groups called it too weak.

Why it matters: The Dodd-Frank provision aims to create transparency to battle the "resource curse."

  • That's the poverty, conflict, and government corruption in some resource-rich nations in Africa and elsewhere.
  • The idea is to reveal payments for contracts, royalties and so forth to help ensure residents share the benefits from resource extraction.
  • The oil lobby says it favors disclosure but argues that granular mandates are burdensome and hobble SEC-regulated firms when competing for contracts.

Catch up fast: The SEC first issued rules in 2012. But industry groups sued and a federal judge nixed the regulation.

  • The SEC completed a rewrite in 2016. But in 2017 Republicans passed legislation to kill the rule and President Trump signed it.
  • Now it's tricky because the law they used, called the Congressional Review Act, bars agencies from re-issuing rules that closely mirror an overturned one.

What's new: Yesterday's version makes the required public disclosures much less specific than prior versions.

It defines "project" in a much less detailed way and enables companies to report payments at national and broad regional levels. The rule also contains multiple exemptions.

What they're saying: "We appreciate the Commission’s...effort to balance transparency with the overall mission to protect investors, competition and the efficiency of capital markets," said Stephen Comstock of the American Petroleum Institute.

Yes, but: Advocacy groups blasted it. "Oil companies and corrupt kleptocrats should no longer be able to exploit U.S. financial secrecy, and investors should have the information they really need to make informed investment decisions," said Ian Gary of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition.

What's next: Several groups said the incoming Biden administration, which will appoint a Democratic SEC chair, should revisit and strengthen the rule. And Gary said it's "vulnerable to litigation," though called that only "one possible option."

Go deeper

FCC chairman says tech giants need to explain themselves

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies at a Senate hearing June 16, 2020. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai says online platforms should be forced to explain their practices in the much the same way he required of broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T.

The big picture: Pai paired those transparency requirements with his 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules. Open-internet proponents feared the repeal would lead to ISPs blocking websites or deliberately slowing traffic, but bipartisan concern has largely shifted to the power of platforms like Google and Facebook to shape what people see online.

31 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
58 mins ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.