PORTLAND, Maine — The left-leaning Maine Small Business Coalition has taken two midcoast business owners to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby for greater disclosure in corporate registrations.
Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, said the recent publication and reporting on the Panama Papers gives a boost to the group’s lobbying on bills in the U.S. House and Senate to require all states to collect information about ownership of corporations registered there.
“It certainly brings it to the top of people’s minds,” Ikard said of the stories coming out of the Panama Papers, which led to the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister, officials at the international soccer federation, FIFA, and prompted UK Prime Minister David Cameron to announce reform efforts.
That brings new momentum to the bill that models past versions of the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act. Past versions have been opposed by the American Bar Association, out of concern that it raises liability for attorneys serving as registered agents for corporations, and the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Both groups argued the new requirements could place a recordkeeping burden on states as they did not come with funding, and the secretaries of state organization urging other means for increased disclosure, through the IRS or the U.S. Treasury Department.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also opposes the current bill and previous versions, according to its vice president of regional affairs, Geoff O’Hara. In 2013 testimony, it argued that changing IRS rules is preferable to new federal disclosure requirements for anyone with a “beneficial interest” in a company, which it said would be overly broad and could discourage early-stage investors.
“They often seek to keep their investments confidential so that others cannot ‘free-ride’ of the hard work they have invested to identify and nurture promising new companies,” the U.S. Chamber and others wrote in 2013 testimony.
Ben Gilman, a senior government relations specialist with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the group is not following that bill and does not have a position on it.
Sumner Richards, who recently moved back to Maine to take over his family’s Damariscotta business, Fernald’s Country Store, and Newcastle Publick House owner Alex Nevins were both scheduled to meet with members of Maine’s congressional delegation Tuesday and Wednesday.
The three were scheduled to lobby alongside the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition, which has argued that anonymous shell companies contribute to laundering of drug money or funds for terrorist organizations and tax evasion.
In the House, Democratic 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree said she plans to co-sponsor the bill, H.R. 4450.
Republican 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin said in an emailed statement that he’s “very concerned about terrorists’ ability to hide financial transactions” and is examining ways to fight that. He is a member of a House task force on terror financing.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement said they intend to review the legislation “to help determine the most effective way to help law enforcement officials deliver justice to criminals or terrorists hiding behind shell corporations.”
Richards, 28, said he expects the publication of the Panama Papers will give a boost to the lobbying effort, arguing for greater corporate transparency that could lead to what he views as a fairer corporate tax system.
“I feel that the money is not on our side, unfortunately,” Richards said.