By Ben Geman
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is warning GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney that rolling back oil industry disclosure regulations required under the Dodd-Frank law would hurt U.S. national security.
Cardin co-authored the law's provision that will force oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. Romney has attacked the sweeping 2010 financial reform law, but his campaign declined to address the Cardin provision specifically.
"If Mr. Romney became president, I am hopeful that his advisers, his national security advisers, would tell him the importance of stability in mineral-wealthy nations, and how so much of this wealth has been used against American interests, that it would in America's strong national security interest to pursue a strong enforcement of the Cardin-Lugar provisions," Cardin said in the Capitol, referring the measure he authored with Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.).
Cardin, speaking at a forum on the provision hosted by the Publish What You Pay coalition, noted he wants President Obama to win.
The Dodd-Frank law requires SEC-listed oil, gas and mining companies to reveal payments to governments related to projects in their countries, such as money for production licenses, taxes, royalties and other aspects of energy and mineral projects.
It's aimed at increasing transparency to help undo the "resource curse," in which some impoverished countries in Africa and elsewhere are plagued by high levels of corruption and conflict alongside their energy and mineral wealth.
The Maryland senator said Obama administration officials have backed the provision with security in mind, and said the disclosure is important for investors, too.
"Secretary [of State] Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration recognized that knowing what oil companies are doing in this part of the world will help America's security interest," Cardin said in the Capitol, adding that stability of energy resources benefits the United States.
The SEC is slated to vote on a final rule implementing the Cardin-Lugar provision on Aug. 22, but oil companies have hinted that they will file a lawsuit against the final regulation, adding uncertainty about its fate as the election looms.
Major oil companies such as Exxon are pushing the SEC to include various exemptions to the requirements and leeway to report the information on a broad, aggregated basis.
They allege the SEC rule could place them at a disadvantage when competing for contracts against state-owned or state-controlled companies that would not be captured by the mandates, such as Russia's Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Co.
But human-rights groups -- not to mention George Soros -- are pushing back against industry attempts to win various exemptions that activists argue would gut the rules.