WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates has thrown his support behind a controversial proposal by U.S. securities regulators to make oil, natural gas and mining companies disclose payments to governments.
In a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates said the SEC's proposed new disclosure rules are critical to reducing the risks of bribery and corruption, and promoting transparency for the public.
The position taken by Gates, who is increasingly focused on philanthropic work through the foundation, is at odds with business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute.
"The commission has a mandate to implement final rules reflecting the clear intent and reporting requirements established by Congress," Gates said in a February 9 letter.
"It would produce real benefits for the citizens of the countries where the investments take place."
The SEC's resource extraction issuer proposal is one of three sets of mining-related disclosure rules required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law.
It would require the disclosure of details such as the types and total amount of payments made for each project related to the commercial development of oil, natural gas and minerals, the type and total payment to each government and the currency used, among other things.
A second rule, adopted in December, requires mining companies to disclose information about health and safety violations.
A third proposed rule would make companies disclose whether they use tantalum, tin, gold or tungsten from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The SEC has stalled in adopting both the resource extraction and conflict mineral rules, however, after they met with strong opposition from business and energy-focused trade groups.
The groups have argued that detailed disclosures could put employees in harm's way or adversely impact competition, and they are calling for certain exemptions from disclosing more sensitive data.
Gates in his letter asked the SEC not to grant any exemptions, saying they would "defeat the purpose of the law."
The letter from Gates to the SEC was first reported on Wednesday by Main Justice, a news service that reports on legal issues.
The SEC had not yet posted a copy of it, but a spokesman for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation confirmed it had sent the letter to the agency.
(Reporting By Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Michael Urquhart)