Delawareans Tackle Issue of DE Anonymous Companies
International Policy Expert, Panel, and Community Share Concerns & Solutions
WILMINGTON – Over 50 Delawareans came together Wednesday evening for a community forum on Delaware’s anonymous companies put together by the Delaware chapters of Americans for Democratic Action and the National Association of Social Workers.
State Representative John Kowalko began the panel discussion, and shared that he along with 30 other state legislators recently signed a letter to Delaware’s federal delegation asking them to support the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act. He took umbrage with attempts from the Secretary of State’s office to encourage legislators to remove themselves from the letter.
Special guest Stefanie Ostfeld, Senior Policy Advisor for anti-corruption organization Global Witness, spoke next. Global Witness has investigated numerous cases of international corruption, and Ostfeld explained that a common thread throughout these cases is that they were enabled by anonymous companies.
Darlene Battle, Executive Director of the Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement, shared her perspective on how anonymous companies hurt communities, especially poor people. Anonymous Delaware companies have been used to buy up tax liens to force foreclosures on vulnerable homeowners.
State Representative Gerald Brady, Executive Director of the Delaware AFL-CIO, explained why this issue is important to labor. Anonymous companies are used to help evade taxes and contribute anonymously to Super PACs. Labor unions are fighting for a working economy that creates prosperity for all and believe people have the right to know who is behind a company.
Rick Geisenberger, Deputy Secretary of State and Director of Corporations for the State of Delaware, concluded the panel’s introductory remarks, stating that he believed the Secretary of State’s office agreed with the other panelists on the problem, but not on the solution. Geisenberger took issue with the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act and outlined his opposition to company beneficial ownership information becoming public.
What followed was a lively and active discussion. Participants asked detailed policy questions about the federal legislation and issue at hand. The issue of anonymous companies has been a particularly sensitive one in Delaware, as over one-third of Delaware’s state revenue comes from incorporation. However, panelists were enthusiastic about endorsing federal legislation that would apply to all states. Many openly challenged Geisenberger, vocalizing their opinions that the public has a right to know who owns companies and that corporations should be accountable. Currently in Delaware a person has to provide less information to form a company than to get a driver’s license.
Delaware ADA Board President Mike Matthews concluded the evening, calling on Delawareans to take action. “As a Delawarean, I want our state to be a responsible leader in incorporation,” Matthews said. “If you agree with what you’ve heard tonight, there are many ways to take action! Before you leave, sign our petition to help ensure law enforcement has the necessary information to ensure criminals cannot use anonymous shell corporations for terrorism, money laundering, tax evasion, and other nefarious activities.”
Photos from the event can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.748739668498868.1073741845.522724021100435