When it comes to electing and influencing politicians, money amplifies the volume of your voice. As Californians reflect on Tuesday's primary election results, federal regulators have a chance to do something about the heavy metal concert mics the U.S. Supreme Court handed corporations in the Citizens United case.

The high court's precedent-spurning 2010 decision held that the federal government cannot limit independent campaign expenditures by corporations. In deregulating political spending to a degree rarely, if ever, seen in the history of campaign finance, Citizens United made it all the more vital that corporate political spending be fully disclosed.

Enter the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates publicly traded companies. A group of law professors has petitioned the SEC to adopt a rule requiring firms to disclose all political spending. I support the petition, and so do about 180,000 others who have filed comments with the SEC -- an all-time high. Advocates want to submit 1 million comments supporting the rule.

Californians concerned about uncontrolled election spending by corporations should tell the SEC they support the rule because it throws more light on these payments, makes companies more accountable for their spending and helps protect all investors -- not just entities like CalPERS, with its $227 billion in assets, but Mom and Pop and their nest egg, too. Public Citizen's website provides a convenient way to submit a comment. (Go to www.citizen.org/action/ and click on "Tell the SEC to Require Corporations to Disclose Political Spending.")


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Corporate shareholders have a particular interest in ensuring not just the greatest possible transparency in political spending but also accountability through board oversight. They have a right to know a company's policies and actions advance the firm's legitimate business and financial interests and do not endanger its value.

Corporate contributions generally are disclosed when made directly to candidates, political parties or political action committees. But when companies funnel money to trade associations or nonprofit groups -- which are playing a larger role in campaigns -- donors can hide their identities.

Large institutional investors, shareholder advocates and public officials in the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending have mounted efforts to respond to Citizens United. These initiatives share two guiding principles: the boards of publicly traded corporations should adopt policies governing political spending and enforce those policies; and corporations should fully disclose their political contributions, including those made to trade groups and nonprofits.

CalPERS and CalSTRS -- the nation's two largest public pension fund investors -- have adopted policies to support shareholder resolutions calling for disclosure and board oversight. Such resolutions have proliferated in Citizens United's wake. This year, companies had a 30 percent chance of facing a political spending resolution, according to the Manhattan Institute's Proxy Monitor. From 2006 through 2009, by comparison, the likelihood was 9 percent to 11 percent. The number of resolutions on campaign spending and lobbying this year have jumped 50 percent from 2011. These resolutions now comprise the largest category of proxy activity.

Advocates have also worked with companies to win voluntary agreements to adopt disclosure/oversight policies. According to the Center for Political Accountability, 100 companies have adopted such policies. They include heavyweights such as Altria, Capital One, Pfizer, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Halliburton, Safeway, Verizon, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Merck, Dow Chemical, American Express and General Electric.

Protecting all shareholders' interests, however, requires action by the SEC.

Our democracy took a troubling turn with Citizens United. The disclosure requirement, by shedding light, would make the new electoral world safer for investors and less scary for us all. The SEC should put the rule on its agenda as soon as possible. If we can't control the volume, the least we deserve is to know who's doing the shouting.

Bill Lockyer is California state treasurer and a member of the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending. He wrote this for this newspaper.