ActivePaper Archive Lawmaker is giving corruption a leg up - Houston Chronicle, 12/26/2017


Lawmaker is giving corruption a leg up


What the world needs now is more corruption.

I can only guess that’s why Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., wants to repeal the Securities and Exchange Commission requirement that oil companies report how much they pay foreign governments in taxes, royalties and other fees.

The government should not be “imposing non-material disclosure requirements that only seem to push a social agenda,” Huizenga said.

Dissecting that quote reveals Huizenga’s complete disregard for the law and morality.

Whether or not a company is paying a foreign government too little or too much to pump oil and natural gas is material to shareholder interests. After all, paying too little indicates a bribe was paid, and paying too much indicates a kickback is going to be paid.

Engaging in illegal behavior, by the way, is very material to a company’s future and something that shareholders care deeply about because it affects profits and dividends.

An Italian judge ruled last week that Italian oil giant Eni, Royal Dutch Shell and senior executives will face a civil trial over a $1.1 billion bribery scandal in Nigeria. Another European court will determine whether the same companies will face criminal charges over their acquisition of a deep-water oil-prospecting license.

Losing these cases could cost shareholders a billion dollars.

As for social agendas, Huizenga has no problem pushing anti-abortion legislation, which is “a social agenda.” So I’m not sure why he has a problem with laws that discourage crimes already on the books.

The real issue, and one that honest members of the energy industry acknowledge, is that U.S. laws that ban them from paying bribes also makes it harder for them to do business with criminals, who sometimes control government decision-making.

Dropping the SEC reporting requirement would not legalize paying foreign bribes legal under U.S. law, but it would make it easier to get away with it.

This is part of a disturbing trend under President Donald Trump where special interest groups try to make breaking the law easier by eliminating so-called red tape. You know, the regulations used to enforce laws.

Recently, I wrote about the electronic logging device requirement for long-haul truckers and said law-abiding drivers should welcome them. The angry response from independent truckers was deafening.

The underlying takeaway from all of the heat, though, was that some truckers hate the federal rules that limit how many hours they drive a day, and when they have to take breaks. Most of them hated the logging devices not because they were unsound. They opposed them because they make it harder to cheat.

Oil companies will claim all day long that they don’t pay bribes and don’t want to pay bribes. But they also oppose every effort to make it easier for regulators and shareholders to catch them.

There is plenty of red tape to cut in Washington, and I encourage the judicious use of sharp scissors. But beware of those who want to gut the regulations that make it possible to enforce truly important laws, like anti-corruption statutes.

Because getting rid of those only serves criminals, not honest companies.

Chris Tomlinson is the Chronicle’s business