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Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, secrecy in political spending has been an issue of growing concern to small businesses. Small business owners across the political spectrum agree on this problem: In a poll released last year, 66 percent of small business owners said they thought the Citizens United decision was bad for small businesses; only 9 percent thought it was good.

While fully fixing the damage of Citizens United is a long-term effort, there is a short-term remedy: a proposal for a new rule at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending. As a small business owner, I hope the SEC acts quickly to adopt this proposal.

Last week, the CEOs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers signed a letter in defense of secret political spending. It’s hard to grasp how anyone who believes in free market competition would defend information secrecy. Access to information is a tenet of basic economics.

Unfortunately, these big business lobbies seem to trade on secrecy. U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue has even said part of what the chamber offers is “deniability” – helping its members put their thumb on the scales of our elections without leaving their corporate “fingerprints” behind.

Deniability may be part of the U.S. Chamber’s business model, but it’s not part of mine and it’s not a small business value. Dark cellars are a good place to make wine. They’re not a good place to make decisions in a democracy.

“Do what you say and say what you do” – that’s a small business value. When I want to advocate for an issue, I put a sign in my window. I ask my customers to sign a petition. As a small business owner, I stand by my actions. Is it too much to ask big corporations to do the same?

Defenders of secret spending like to claim they’re taking a stand for small businesses. But secret money in politics doesn’t make us winners. It makes us losers. Worse, it makes us pawns by allowing special interests to push their agendas “in the name of” small business.

In 2009 and 2010, health insurance companies secretly funneled more than $100 million to the U.S. Chamber to campaign against health care reform, in the name of small business. This is like identity theft – stealing the good name of small business to advance the agenda of big insurance.

Disclosure of political spending is critical to ensure honest competition and a strong economy that rewards transparency and innovation, not secrecy and pay-to-play politics.

Sen. Tester can play an important leadership role here. He chairs the Senate Banking Committee’s securities subcommittee, which has authority on issues relating to investor protection. I hope he’ll use that authority to advance disclosure of secret money by calling a hearing on the topic of corporate governance and secret political spending.

It’s time to establish a transparent, level playing field so small businesses can compete with a fair hand, not a deck that’s stacked against us. It’s time for the SEC to adopt the rule on disclosure.

Tim Christiansen is the owner of Vino per tutti in Bozeman and serves on the steering committee of the Montana Small Business Alliance, a statewide network of local, independent small businesses.

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