But an Iowa Republican has a bill to do something about it…
Reporters at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s largest media outlet, are up in arms after an anonymous company – News + Media Capital Group LLC – spent $140 million dollars to purchase the paper while refusing to disclose who owns the company. These dumbfounded journalists have run into the obscure yet increasingly prominent issue of “anonymous incorporation”, which has plagued anti-corruption warriors in developing countries for years.
At the heart of the issue are extreme secrecy rules on the books in states like Nevada, Delaware and Wyoming, which allow individuals forming companies to shield their true identities. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush has entered the fray, joking on Twitter about the paper’s anonymous owners:
Just finished hour+ @reviewjournal ed board. Only q left unanswered – who owns the newspaper?
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) December 14, 2015
Anonymous incorporation allows fraudsters, mobsters, terrorists, money-launderers, tax-evaders and corrupt politicians to cover their tracks and evade the authorities while they rip off the public and engage in all manner of crime and illicit activity. According to the US Departments of Justice and Treasury, anonymous companies have been used to fund al Qaeda and evade sanctions in Iran.
These kinds of companies are also one of the key tools used to facilitate corruption that has undermined progress in many poor countries. In fact, the World Bank reviewed 213 big cases of corruption between 1980 and 2010, more than 70 percent of them relied on anonymous shell companies. The most common place those companies were registered? The United States.
But luckily for Jeb Bush, and other political leaders looking to crack down on corruption, terrorism, crime and hidden newspaper ownership, there is actually something quite practical they can do about it. For several years running, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, and Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin have joined together to introduce a simple bill to require that any company formed in the US disclose its true “beneficial” owners. The bill has stalled in the face of special interests’ objections.
How lucky is it then – in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses – that a stalwart Iowa Republican has taken a leadership position on this very issue? So for every slack-jawed journalist wondering what they can do to put their frustration at the Review-Journal’s secrecy into action, start by asking the Presidential candidates where they stand on Senators Grassley and Levin’s bill?
As luck would have it, there is a Republican debate tonight in Las Vegas of all places. Wolf, now is your chance.