© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission logo adorns an office door
By Katanga Johnson WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday relaxed requirements on oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments, completing a rule created by Congress after the government bailout of Wall Street in 2008. The SEC voted 3-2 to adopt industry-friendly changes to its “resources extraction” disclosure rule following a 10-year industry fight to water down the measure, mandated by the 2010 Dodd Frank law passed to battle corporate corruption. It was the third version of the rule. The first version, adopted by the SEC in 2012, was defeated in court by the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association which argued that the measure would put resource companies at a competitive disadvantage. Republicans in the U.S. Congress scrapped a second version after the party gained control of the Senate in 2017. They deployed the then rarely-used Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn recently adopted regulations and bars the agency concerned from reissuing a similar rule. All three Republican commissioners voted in favor of the third version, which still requires a publicly held U.S. oil, gas or mineral company, or a foreign firm whose shares trade on a U.S. market, to disclose payments made directly or by a subsidiary to the U.S. federal government and relevant foreign government. Both Democrats on the commission voted against the rule, which requires only aggregated information at a national level in most cases, instead of on a contract-by-contract basis. SEC chair Jay Clayton said crafting the rule had been tricky given the constraints imposed by the Congressional Review Act but that, overall, it achieved “the statutory objective of promoting the transparency of resource extraction issuers’ payments to governments.” Democratic SEC Commissioner Allison Lee said the rule does not demand the “detail” that would enable regulators to spot potential corruption. It also applies to fewer companies and raises the value threshold for disclosure, among other weaknesses, she said. Democratic commissioner Caroline Crenshaw also voted no. Analysts said that despite the changes, the resource industry may still seek to challenge the rule in court. Investor advocates and human rights organizations said it will not do enough to fight corruption. A day before the vote, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren warned the SEC the measure would “severely undermine the anti-corruption measures included in Dodd-Frank” and urged the agency to “conduct a full and complete analysis of the potential harm caused by implementing this rule before rushing to finalize it.” Stephen Comstock of the American Petroleum Institute said the rule provides clarity for issuers on this complex issue.
“Our members, who have long supported transparency efforts, will be assessing how these final rules will work with their existing reporting systems.”
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