Monday, May 22, 2017

Shareholder Wealth Maximization at the Firm Level

I ask my Advanced Business Associations students to recognize and process theory and policy and relate them to doctrine at the practical level.  This is, as most of you will recognize, a tall order of business for students who have just recently learned what business associations law is and may not yet (at the time they take the course) have applied the law in a practical context outside the classroom.  (The course is open to 2L and 3L students who have already taken Business Associations.)

So, when it came time to lionize my friends Lyman Johnson and David Millon at a symposium honoring their work (which, as you may recall, I first heralded on the BLPB a year ago and wrote a bit about back in October), I decided to put my scholarship pen (keyboard) where my teaching mouth is.  My goal for the symposium was to write something that linked theory and policy through doctrine to law practice and, at the same time, incorporated Lyman's and David's work. The essay I produced in fulfillment of these objectives was recently released and posted to SSRN.  I excerpted from it in my post on Saturday.  The full SSRN abstract follows.

In context, corporate law is often credited with creating, hewing to, or reinforcing a shareholder wealth maximization norm. The now infamous opinion in Dodge v. Ford Motor Co. describes the norm in a relatively bald and narrow way: “A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders." As a matter of theory and policy, commentators from the academy (law and business) and practice (lawyers and judges) have taken various views on this asserted norm—ranging from characterizing the norm as nonexistent or oversimplified to maintaining it as simple fact.

In an effort to broaden the conversation about the shareholder wealth maximization norm in an applied context, this essay describes shareholder wealth maximization under various state laws (in and outside Delaware) as a function of firm-level corporate governance—corporate law statutes, decisional law interpreting and filling gaps in that statutory law, and corporate charter and bylaw provisions—as applicable to both publicly held and privately held corporations in a variety of states. In this overall context, the essay considers the possibility that holders of shares in for-profit corporations may desire to maximize overall utility in their shareholdings of a particular firm, rather than merely the financial wealth arising from those holdings. To accomplish its purpose, the essay first briefly and generally addresses shareholder wealth maximization as a function of applicable statutory and decisional law and as a matter of private ordering (collecting, synthesizing, and characterizing, in each case, points made in the extant literature) before suggesting the broad implications of that analysis for corporate governance and shareholder wealth maximization and concluding. Ultimately, the essay makes a case for a more nuanced look at the shareholder wealth maximization norm. Given differences in doctrine and public policy among the states and variance in that doctrine and public policy among public, private, and statutory close or closely held corporations within individual states, answers to open questions are likely to (and should) depend on individualized facts assessed through the lens of specific statutory and decisional law and applicable public policy.

I fear that this short piece does not do the subject (or Lyman and David's amazing work) justice.  But my biggest regret is that the essay went to press without the addition of thanks to two special folks in my author's footnote.  I want to call those two colleagues out here.  

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May 22, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Loyalty to Whom (or What)?

Loyalty has been in the news lately.  The POTUS, according to some reports, asked former Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") Director James Comey to pledge his loyalty.  Assuming the basic veracity of those reports, was the POTUS referring to loyalty to the country or to him personally?  Perhaps both and perhaps, as Peter Beinart avers in The Atlantic, the POTUS and others fail to recognize a distinction between the two.  Yet, identifying the object of a duty can be important.

I have observed that the duty of government officials is not well understood in the public realm. Donna Nagy's fine work on this issue in connection with the proposal of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge ("STOCK") Act, later adopted by Congress, outlines a number of ways in which Congressmen and Senators, among others, may owe fiduciary duties to others.  If you have not yet been introduced to this scholarship, I highly recommend it.  If we believe that government officials are entrusted with information, among other things, in their capacity as public servants, they owe duties to the government and its citizens to use that information in authorized ways for the benefit of that government and those citizens.  In fact, Professor Nagy's congressional testimony as part of the hearings on the STOCK Act includes the following in this regard:

Given the Constitution's repeated reference to public offices being “of trust,” and Members’ oath of office to “faithfully discharge” their duties, I would predict that a court would be highly likely to find that Representatives and Senators owe fiduciary-like duties of trust and confidence to a host of parties who may be regarded as the source of material nonpublic congressional knowledge. Such duties of trust and confidence may be owed to, among others:

  • the citizen-investors they serve;
  • the United States;
  • the general public;
  • Congress, as well as the Senate or the House;
  • other Members of Congress; and
  • federal officials outside of Congress who rely on a Member’s loyalty and integrity.

There is precious little in federal statutes, regulations, and case law on the nature--no less the object--of any fiduciary the Director of the FBI may have.  The authorizing statute and regulations provide little illumination.  Federal court opinions give us little more.  See, e.g., Banks v. Francis, No. 2:15-CV-1400, 2015 WL 9694627, at *3 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 18, 2015), report and recommendation adopted, No. CV 15-1400, 2016 WL 110020 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 11, 2016) ("Plaintiff does not identify any specific, mandatory duty that the federal officials — Defendants Hornak, Brennan, and the FBI Director— violated; he merely refers to an overly broad duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution and to see justice done.").  Accordingly, any applicable fiduciary duty likely would arise out of agency or other common law.  Section 8.01 of the Restatement (Third) of Agency provides "An agent has a fiduciary duty to act loyally for the principal's benefit in all matters connect with the agency relationship."  

But who is the principal in any divined agency relationship involving the FBI Director?  

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May 20, 2017 in Agency, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Call for Papers: Cambridge Handbook of Corporate Law, Corporate Governance and Sustainability

I received this call for papers and wanted to pass it on.

This Call for Papers invites contributions to the Cambridge Handbook of Corporate Law, Corporate Governance and Sustainability. Those tentatively selected to contribute will be invited to a Cambridge Handbook Symposium in Oslo on 12-14 March 2018, with draft chapters to be submitted to the editors beforehand. Participation at the Symposium is not a condition to contribute to the Handbook, but it is strongly encouraged. The Symposium is expected to enhance the quality of the contributions, reinforce the cohesive nature of the volume, and contribute to the timeliness of the manuscript.

The Handbook will be edited by Professor Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo, and Professor Christopher Bruner, Washington and Lee University. Final confirmation of contributions for the Handbook will be contingent on review of the chapters and will be decided by the editors. . . .

More information is available here.  In case you need a bit of encouragement to make a proposal, I will add that (in case you do not know them) the editors are well-regarded scholars in the field and also great people.

May 10, 2017 in Call for Papers, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Criminalization of Insider Trading: Has It Gone Too Far?

A bit more than a year ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference on corporate criminal liability at the Stetson University College of Law.  The short papers from the conference were published in a subsequent issue of the Stetson Law Review.  This was the second time that Ellen Podgor, a friend and white collar crime scholar on the Stetson Law faculty, invited me to produce a short work on corporate criminal liability for publication in a dedicated edition of the Stetson Law Review.  (The first piece I published in the Stetson Law Review reflected on corporate personhood in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizen's United opinion.  It has been downloaded and cited a surprising number of times.  So, I welcomed the opportunity to publish with the law review a second time.)

For the 2016 conference, I chose to focus on the reckless conduct of employees and its capacity to generate corporate criminal insider trading liability for the employer.  The abstract for the resulting paper, (Not) Holding Firms Criminally Responsible for the Reckless Insider Trading of their Employees (recently posted to SSRN), is as follows:

Criminal enforcement of the insider trading prohibitions under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 is the root of corporate criminal liability for insider trading in the United States. In the wake of assertions that S.A.C. Capital Advisors, L.P. actively encouraged the unlawful use of material nonpublic information in the conduct of its business, the line between employer and employee criminal liability for insider trading becomes both tenuous and salient. An essential question emerges: when do we criminally prosecute the firm for the unlawful conduct of its employees?

The possibility that reckless employee conduct may result in the employer's willful violation of Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 (and, therefore, criminal liability for that employer firm) motivates this article. The article first reviews the basis for criminal enforcement of the insider trading prohibitions established in Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5 and describes the basis and rationale for corporate criminal liability (a liability that derives from the activities of agents undertaken in the course of the firm’s business). Then, it reflects on that basis and rationale by identifying the potential for corporate criminal liability for the reckless insider trading violations of employees under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5, arguing against that liability, and suggesting ways to eliminate it.

I was not the only conference participant concerned about the criminal liability of an employer for the insider trading conduct of an employee.  John Anderson, who co-led an insider trading discussion group with me at the 2017 Association of American Law Schools annual meeting back in January and also enjoys exploring criminal insider trading issues, contributed his research on the overcriminalization of insider trading at the conference.  His paper, When Does Corporate Criminal Liability for Insider Trading Make Sense?, identifies the same overall problem as my article does (employer criminal liability for insider trading based on employee conduct).  However, he views both the problem and the potential solutions more broadly.  

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May 1, 2017 in Conferences, Corporate Governance, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What's next for conflict minerals legislation? My views and the GAO report

Last week, a reporter interviewed me regarding conflict minerals.The reporter specifically asked whether I believed there would be more litigation on conflict minerals and whether the SEC's lack of enforcement would cause companies to stop doing due diligence. I am not sure which, if any, of my remarks will appear in print so I am posting some of my comments below:

I expect that if conflict minerals legislation survives, it will take a different form. The SEC asked for comments at the end of January, and I've read most of the comment letters. Many, including Trillium Asset Management, focus on the need to stay the course with the Rule, citing some success in making many mines conflict free. Others oppose the rule because of the expense. However, it appears that the costs haven't been as high as most people expected, and indeed many of the tech companies such as Apple and Intel have voiced support for the rule. It's likely that they have already operationalized the due diligence. The SEC has limits on what it can do, so I expect Congress to take action, unless there is an executive order from President Trump, which people have been expecting since February. 
 
The Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa held a hearing on conflict minerals on April 5, and some of the witnesses and Senators talked about what hasn't worked with the rule. Although the situation has improved, the violence continues, most notably with the murder of a member of the UN Group of Experts just last week. Rick Goss from the Information Technology Council testified the while the Rule has had some benefits such as increased transparency and raising global awareness, there are also things that don't work. He discussed fact that the illicit trade in gold continues and criminal elements are still exploiting other resources. A number of his and other witness' proposed solutions were more holistic and geopolitical and went beyond the SEC's purview, and I think that's where the government should look when trying to address these issues. You may see a push toward a safe harbor, which came up in some of the comment letters, and which was a point of discussion during the Senate testimony. With a safe harbor, the issuer could rely on supplier certifications.
 
Lack of enforcement or less enforcement could cause more issuers to continue to do business or start doing business there because it will be less onerous. On the other hand, with with the EU's conflict mineral rules, which will come into play in 2021 and which covers the same minerals (but is not limited in geography) you may find that the big issuers decide to stay the course with due diligence.
 
I have been focusing my research on the consumer aspect of these name and shame laws. While there have been conflict-free campuses and conflict-free cities (and some of them sent letters to the SEC), I haven't seen solid evidence that shows that consumers are boycotting the companies that aren't doing the full due diligence that 1502 requires or rewarding those that do. Apple is a stand-out in conflict minerals compliance but they also happen to sell something that people really want.
 
Although firms like Trillium state that investors like the transparency, they are likely benefitting from an improved supply chain in general because companies that attempted to follow 1502 by necessity had to upgrade systems and supplier protocols.
 
So in sum, I think that the firms that are already doing what they are supposed to may continue to do so (or scale back just a little) and may tout these voluntary efforts in their CSR reports. Those who have been unable to determine the origin of their minerals won't likely do any more than they have to or may just source their minerals elsewhere.
 
If Congress keeps the rule, I recommend that the SEC:
 
1) limit reporting obligations to those companies that manufacture products;
2) add a de minimis exception to the Conflict Minerals Rule; and
3) include a safe harbor provision to allow issuers to rely upon defined contract provisions and supplier certifications.
 
Ideally, theTrump government should take the onus of the responsibility for solving this human rights crisis off the private sector and instead work with the Congolese government, other governments, and NGOs on holistic solutions, especially as it relates to the members of the armed forces, who are also involved in illegal mineral trade and human rights abuses.
 

Just today, the GAO issued a report on conflict minerals. Dodd-Frank requires an annual report on the effectiveness of the rule "in promoting peace and security in the DRC and adjoining countries." Of note, the report explained that:

After conducting due diligence, an estimated 39 percent of the companies reported in 2016 that they were able to determine that their conflict minerals came from covered countries or from scrap or recycled sources, compared with 23 percent in 2015. Almost all of the companies that reported conducting due diligence in 2016 reported that they could not determine whether the conflict minerals financed or benefited armed groups, as in 2015 and 2014. (emphasis added).

The Trump Administration, some SEC commissioners, and many in Congress have already voiced their concerns about this legislation. I didn't have the benefit of the GAO report during my interview, but it will likely provide another nail in the coffin of the conflict minerals rule. 

 

 

 

April 26, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

What Is Ideological Diversity in the Legal Academy?

More than a few legal blogs and scholars have taken note of a recent paper by Adam Bonica (Stanford University), Adam S. Chilton (University of Chicago), Kyle Rozema (Northwestern University) and Maya Sen (Harvard University), “The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity.”  The paper finds that those in the legal academy are more liberal than those in legal profession generally.  Anecdotally, I have to say I am not surprised. 

The abstract of the piece is as follows:

We find that approximately 15% of law professors are conservative and that only approximately one out of every twenty law schools have more conservative law professors than liberal ones. In addition, we find that these patterns vary, with higher-ranked schools having an even smaller presence of conservative law professors. We then compare the ideological balance of the legal academy to that of the legal profession. Compared to the 15% of law professors that are conservative, 35% of lawyers overall are conservative. Law professors are more liberal than graduates of top 14 law schools, lawyers working at the largest law firms, former federal law clerks, and federal judges. Although we find that professors are more liberal than the alumni at all but a handful of law schools, there is a strong relationship between the ideologies of professors from a law school and the ideologies of alumni from that school. However, this relationship is weaker for schools with more conservative alumni.

Jonathan Adler recently discussed the paper in a piece for The Volokh Conspiracy How ‘ideologically uniform’ is the legal academy? Adler notes, that the paper's "findings are based upon an examination of reported political donations. While this is an admittedly imperfect measure of ideology, it does allow for comparisons across population groups." I agree on both counts.   

I am particularly interested in (and a bit skeptical of) the use of political donations as the proxy for ideology.  I understand why the authors used that proxy: the information is available and it does, as Adler says, provide for comparisons.  My skepticism is not about their process or choice, but merely about whether it tells us very much about legal ideology. I think it tells us primarily about political party. And even there, in a primarily two-party system, it only tells us about preferences between those two parties, and if the data is primarily presidential, about those two specific candidates. 

My point is that legal ideology is often different that political party choice. When choosing between two parties, we all have priorities of our views, too. For example, I am a far bigger believer in the ability of markets to solve problems than many of my colleagues.  I am more skeptical of government intervention and increased regulation than many of my colleagues. But because of a few priorities that tip my balancing test, I would almost certainly come out "liberal" in using my modest contributions to political parties as the assessment of my ideology.  

In assessing legal ideology, though, I would argue diversity comes more from how we view the law than particular candidates or certain social issues. Obviously, it is much harder to assess that, but I think it should matter when considering how law schools teach.  

Some legal programs (like SEALS) have been seeking diversity of viewpoints, along with other measures of diversity, for panel and discussions groups. This is a good thing. It's not always easy to assess, though. Maybe we should just ask. Here's how I'd assess my own legal ideology: When it comes to economic regulation, my thinking is much more in line with former law professor and SEC Commissioner Troy A. Paredes than I am with, say, Elizabeth Warren. When it comes to business entities law, I am far more Bainbridge than Bebchuck.  For environmental law, more Huffman or Adler than Parenteau. Of course, I have at various times agreed and disagreed with them all.  

I, like many others, am very skeptical of an ideological litmus test or quota system. And yet I also think there is value in embracing different perspectives and viewpoints.  Ultimately, I don't care how someone votes when I assess whether they are a good legal scholar, a good colleague, and a good teacher. I do care that they value diversity of all kinds (including ideological), and I care that they believe in encouraging and faciltitating productive discourse. There is little value in lockstep thinking in any arena, and that is particularly true in legal education. I'm glad this discussion is part of how we consider moving forward in legal education.  

April 26, 2017 in Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Law School, Lawyering, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Lawyers and Compliance: Business Entity Clients with Control Persons Who Recklessly Disobey

As a business lawyer in private practice, I found it very frustrating when the principals of business entity clients acted in contravention of my advice.  This didn't happen too often in my 15 years of practice.  But when it did, I always wondered whether I could have stopped the madness by doing something differently in my representation of the client.

Thanks to friend and Wayne State University Law School law professor Peter Henning, who often writes on insider trading and other white collar crime issues for the New York Times DealBook (see, e.g., this recent piece), I had the opportunity to revisit this issue through my research and present that research at a symposium at Wayne Law back in the fall of 2015.  The law review recently published the resulting short article, which I have posted to SSRN.  The abstract is set forth below.

Sometimes, business entity clients and their principals do not seek, accept, or heed the advice of their lawyers. In fact, sometimes, they expressly disregard a lawyer’s instructions on how to proceed. In certain cases, the client expressly rejects the lawyer’s advice. However, some business constituents who take action contrary to the advice of legal counsel may fall out of compliance incrementally over time or signal compliance and yet (paradoxically) act in a noncompliant manner. These seemingly ineffectual varieties of the lawyer/client relationship are frustrating to the lawyer.

This short article aims to explain why representatives of business entities who consider themselves law-abiding and ethical may nevertheless act in contravention of the business’s legal counsel and offers preliminary means of addressing the proffered reasons for these compliance failures. The article does not address willful noncompliance or even willful blindness. Rather, it makes observations about behavior that falls squarely into what the law typically recognizes as recklessness. An apocryphal lawyer-client story relating to insider trading compliance provides foundational context.

The exemplar story derives from things I witnessed in law practice.  Perhaps some of you also have experienced clients or business entity client principals which/who act contrary to your advice in similar ways.  Regardless, you may find this short piece of interest.

April 24, 2017 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Visioning the Publicly Held Benefit Corporation

As Haskell earlier announced here at the BLPB, The first U.S. benefit corporation went public back in February--just before publication of my paper from last summer's 8th Annual Berle Symposium (about which I and other BLPB participants contemporaneously wrote here, here, and here).  Although I was able to mark the closing of Laureate Education, Inc.'s public offering in last-minute footnotes, my paper for the symposium treats the publicly held benefit corporation as a future likelihood, rather than a reality.  Now, the actual experiment has begun.  It is time to test the "visioning" in this paper, which I recently posted to SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

Benefit corporations have enjoyed legislative and, to a lesser extent, popular success over the past few years. This article anticipates what recently (at the eve of its publication) became a reality: the advent of a publicly held U.S. benefit corporation — a corporation with public equity holders that is organized under a specialized U.S. state statute requiring corporations to serve both shareholder wealth aims and social or environmental objectives. Specifically, the article undertakes to identify and comment on the structure and function of U.S. benefit corporations and the unique litigation risks to which a publicly held U.S. benefit corporation may be subject. In doing so, the article links the importance of a publicly held benefit corporation's public benefit purpose to litigation risk management from several perspectives. In sum, the distinctive features of the benefit corporation form, taken together with key attendant litigation risks for publicly held U.S. benefit corporations (in each case, as identified in this article), confirm and underscore the key role that corporate purpose plays in benefit corporation law.

Ultimately, this article brings together a number of things I wanted to think and write about, all in one paper.  While many of the observations and conclusions may seem obvious, I found the exploration helpful to my thinking about benefit corporation law and litigation risk management.  Perhaps you will, too . . . .

April 17, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Litigation, Management, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Impact Esq. and Kickstarter's 2016 Benefit Statement

Attorney Kyle Westaway has started a monthly e-mail that compiles information about social enterprise and impact investing law. You can subscribe here.

In the latest Impact Esq. newsletter, Kyle included a link to the Kickstarter’s 2016 Benefit Statement. Kyle wrote that he had “never seen [a benefit report] as strong as Kickstarter’s.” Personally, I am not sure I would go that far. I think Greyston Bakery’s Report and Patagonia’s Report are at least as good. I do think the Kickstarter report is relatively good, but the bar is incredibly low, as many benefit corporations are ignoring the statutory reporting requirement or doing a pathetically bad job at reporting.

While the Kickstarter report is more detailed than most, it still reads mostly like a PR piece to me. The vast majority of the report is listing cherry-picked, positive statistics. That said, Kickstarter did note a few areas for possible improvement, which is extremely rare in benefit report. Kickstarter stated that they could do more to promote “sustainability,” that they could do more to encourage staff to “take advantage of the paid time off we provide for volunteering,” and that they wanted to “encourage greater transparency from creators, better educate backers about the risks and rewards of this system, and further empower our Integrity team in their work to keep Kickstarter safe and trusted.” These “goals” for improvement are quite vague, and I would have liked to see more specific goals.

A few other things to note:

  • University of Pennsylvania produced a study, which was cited and used in the report. I think involving universities in the creation of these reports could be a good idea, though possible conflicts should be considered.
  • “Including both salary and equity, our CEO's total compensation equaled 5.52x the median total compensation of all non-CEO, non-founder employees in 2016. For context, a 2015 study examining the executive pay gap found that the average CEO earns 204 times that of the median worker for the same company.” I would be interested in how Kickstarter’s number compares to companies in their industry, especially direct competitors. I imagine the CEO/Employee compensation ratio is lower in the technology industry, where the market demands fairly high employee compensation, but even considering the industry, Kickstarter's ratio still seems quite low.
  • “Kickstarter overall team demographics: 53% women; 47% men. 70% White/Caucasian; 12% Asian; 12% two or more races; 4% Hispanic or Latino; 2% Black/African American.” This seems to be a good bit more diverse, especially as to gender, than other technology companies who have released similar data.
  • “Everyone who works at Kickstarter receives an annual Education Stipend to explore their interests outside the office. In 2016, our employees used their stipends towards blacksmithing classes, a bookmaking class, a synthesizer, pottery courses, an herbal medicine workshop, art supplies, improv classes, a neon light making seminar, and embroidery.” I didn’t see how much the education stipend was, but this seems like a good perk.
  • “We donated 5% of our after-tax profits to six organizations working to build a more creative and equitable world.” Profits are easier to manipulate than revenues; I’d like to see a revenue floor (as Patagonia does – donating the greater of 10% of profits and 1% of revenues). That said 5% of profits can be significant and does show some commitment to these causes.

March 24, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, CSR, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What does the EU know that the U.S. Doesn’t About the Effectiveness of Conflict Minerals Legislation?

Earlier this month, the EU announced plans to implement its version of conflict minerals legislation, which covers all “conflict-affected and high-risk areas” around the world. Once approved by the Council of the EU, the law will apply to all importers into the EU of minerals or metals containing or consisting of tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold (with some exceptions). Compliance and reporting will begin in January 2021. Importers must use OECD due diligence standards, report on their progress to suppliers and the public, and use independent third-party auditors. President Trump has not yet issued an executive order on Dodd-Frank §1502, aka conflict minerals, but based on a leaked memo, observers believe that it's just a matter of time before that law is repealed here in the U.S. So why is there a difference in approach?

In response to a request for comments from the SEC, the U.S Chamber of Commerce, which led the legal battle against §1502, claimed, “substantial evidence shows that the conflict minerals rule has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo…The reports public companies are mandated to file also contribute to ―information overload and create further disincentives for businesses to go public or remain public companies. Accordingly, the Chamber strongly supports Congressional repeal of Section 1502 due to its all-advised and fundamentally flawed approach to solving a geopolitical crisis, and the substantial burden it imposes upon public companies and their shareholders.”

The Enough Project, which spearheaded the passage of §1502, submitted an eight-page statement to the SEC last month stating, among other things, that they “strongly oppose[] any suspension, weakening, or repeal of the current Conflict Minerals Rule, and urge[] the SEC to increase enforcement of the Rule….The Rule has led to improvements in the rule of law in the mining sectors of Congo, Rwanda, and other Great Lakes countries, contributed to improvements in humanitarian conditions in Congo and a weakening of key insurgent groups, and resulted in tangible benefits for U.S. corporations and their supply chains.”

I agree that the Rule has led to increased transparency and efficiency in supply chains (although some would differ), and less armed control of mines. But I’m not sure that the overall human rights conditions have improved as significantly as §1502’s advocates (and I) would have liked.

As Amnesty International’s 2016/2017 report on DRC explains in graphic detail, “armed groups committed a wide range of abuses including: summary executions; abductions; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; rape and other sexual violence; and the looting of civilian property... various ... armed groups (local and community-based militias) were among those responsible for abuses against civilians. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continued to be active and commit abuses in areas bordering South Sudan and the Central African Republic. In… North Kivu, civilians were massacred, usually by machetes, hoes and axes. On the night of 13 August, 46 people were killed … by suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group from Uganda that maintains bases in eastern DRC…Hundreds of women and girls were subjected to sexual violence in conflict-affected areas. Perpetrators included soldiers and other state agents, as well as combatants of armed groups…Hundreds of children were recruited by armed groups...”

Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report isn’t any better. According to HRW, “dozens of armed groups remained active in eastern Congo. Many of their commanders have been implicated in war crimes, including ethnic massacres, killing of civilians, rape, forced recruitment of children, and pillage. In … North Kivu, unidentified fighters continued to commit large-scale attacks on civilians, killing more than 150 people in 2016 … At least 680 people have been killed since the beginning of the series of massacres in October 2014. There are credible reports that elements of the Congolese army were involved in the planning and execution of some of these killings. Intercommunal violence increased as fighters … carried out ethnically based attacks on civilians, killing at least 170 people and burning at least 2,200 homes.

Finally, according to a February 17, 2017 statement from the Trump Administration, “the United States is deeply concerned by video footage that appears to show elements of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo summarily executing civilians, including women and children. Such extrajudicial killing, if confirmed, would constitute gross violations of human rights and threatens to incite widespread violence and instability in an already fragile country. We call upon the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to launch an immediate and thorough investigation, in collaboration with international organizations responsible for monitoring human rights, to identify those who perpetrated such heinous abuses, and to hold accountable any individual proven to have been involved.”

Most Americans have no idea of the atrocities occurring in DRC or other conflict zones around the world. I have spent the past few years researching business and human rights, particularly in conflict zones in Latin America and Africa. I filed an amicus brief in 2013 and have written and blogged about the failure of disclosure regimes a dozen times because I don’t believe that name and shame laws stop the murder, rape, conscription of  child soldiers, and the degradation of innocent people. I applaud the EU and all of the NGOs that have attempted to solve this intractable problem. But it doesn't seem that enough has changed since my visit to DRC in 2011 where I personally saw 5 massacre victims in the road on the way to visit a mine, and met with rape survivors, village chiefs, doctors, members of the clergy and others who pleaded for help from the U.S. Unfortunately, I don’t think this legislation has worked. Ironically, the U.S. and EU legislation go too far and not far enough. I hope that if the U.S. and EU focus on a more holistic, well-reasoned geopolitical solution with NGOS, stakeholders, and business.

March 22, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2017

What I Did On My Spring Break

Ringling1

No.  This is not a travelogue.  Rather, it's a brief additional bit of background on a case that business associations law professors tend to enjoy teaching (or at least this one does).

In Ringling Bros. Inc. v. Ringling, 29 Del. Ch. 610 (Del. Ch. 1947), the Delaware Chancery Court addresses the validity of a voting agreement between two Ringling family members, Edith Conway Ringling (the plaintiff) and Aubrey B. Ringling Haley (the defendant).  The fact statement in the court's opinion notes that John Ringling North is the third shareholder of the Ringling Brothers corporation.

I spent two days in Sarasota Florida at the end of Spring Break last week.  While there, I spent a few hours at The Ringling Circus Museum.  It was fascinating for many reasons.  But today I will focus on just one.  I noted this summary in one of the exhibits, that seems to directly relate to the Ringling case:

Ringling2

Interestingly, 1938 is the year in which the plaintiff and defendant in the Ringling case created their original voting trust (having earlier entered into a joint action agreement in 1934).  The agreement at issue was entered into in 1941.  Could it be that, perhaps, the two women entered into this arrangement as a reaction to John Ringling North's desire to acquire--or successful acquisition of--management control of the firm?  I want to do some more digging here, if I can.  But I admit that the related history raised some new questions in my mind.  John Ringling North was all but forgotten in my memory and teaching of the case, until the other day . . . .  The case takes on new interest in my mind (more broadly as a close corporation case) because of my museum visit and discovery. 

[Postscript - March 21, 2017:  Since posting this, I have been blessed by wonderful, helpful email messages offering general support, PowerPoint slides (thanks, Frank Snyder), a video link (thanks, Frances Fendler), and referrals to/copies of Mark Ramseyer's article on the Ringling case, Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows v. Ringling: Bad Appointments and Empty-Core Cycling at the Circus, which offers all the detail I could want (thanks, again, Frances, and thanks, Jim Hayes) to help fill in the gaps--while still creating a bit of mystery . . . .  I am a much better informed instructor as a result of all this!  Many thanks to all who wrote.]

March 20, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Shareholders, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Key governance issues for nonprofits

I'm too busy to blog today because I am preparing a training presentation on governance duties for nonprofits. The audience will consist of high level staff, not board members. I have served on many nonprofits and have advised others but I would be interested in your thoughts. Do you teach nonprofit law? Do you sit on nonprofits? What issues do you think nonprofit board members and staffer should know? Among other things, I plan to focus on fiduciary duties, maintaining 501(c)(3) exemption status, agency issues, the implications of Sarbanes-Oxley, conflicts of interest, document retention, code of ethics/whistleblower (to comport with 990),why nonprofits get sued, compensation issues, lobbying, insurance and indemnification, the role of different committees (particularly the audit committee), how to take good minutes, etc. I plan to use hypotheticals to help make the points stick. If you can think of other matters for my 3 hour module or some good case studies, please comment below or inbox me at mnarine@stu.edu. 

March 15, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Nonprofits | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 10, 2017

The FairShares Model

On of the many interesting things discussed during the social enterprise law workshop at Notre Dame Law School was the "FairShares Model." Nina Boeger (University of Bristol-UK) brought the model to the group's attention, and the model was new news to me.

The FairShares Model was "created during a research programme on democratising charities, co-operatives and social enterprises involving academics at Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK."

The FairShares Model cites the "Social Enterprise Europe Ltd" when noting that social enterprises "aim to generate sustainable sources of income, but measure their success through:

  • Specifying their purpose(s) and evaluating the impact(s) of their trading activities;

  • Conducting ethical reviews of their product/service choices and production/consumption practices;

  • Promoting socialized and democratic ownership, governance and management."

To address theses aims, the FairShares Model offers social audits and suggests the issuing some combination of (1) founder shares, (2) labour shares, (3) investor shares, (4) user shares.

While I agree that significant corporate governance changes should be considered, at first glance this model seems a bit unwieldy if all four types of shares are issued. Still, I am interested in learning more. 

March 10, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Adopting Stakeholder Advisory Boards Article is Posted

With co-editor Joan Heminway (and Anne Tucker via Skype), I am at Notre Dame for a symposium on social enterprise law. I will be presenting on aforthcoming book chapter, which builds on my stakeholder advisory board idea. My article Adopting Stakeholder Advisory Boards article was recently published in the American Business Law Journal and I posted it to SSRN this week. The abstract is reproduced below.

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Over the past decade, interest in socially responsible business has grown exponentially. The social business movement seeks to have firms focus on the interests of all corporate stakeholders, rather than solely the financial interests of shareholders. Coupled with the social business movement of the past decade has been the passage of social enterprise statutes by over thirty states. The social enterprise statutes provide legal frameworks for firms that seek profit alongside broader social and environmental ends. A plethora of social enterprise legal forms have been created in the United States since 2008, including benefit corporations, public benefit corporations, benefit LLCs, low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs), general benefit corporations, specific benefit corporations, sustainable business corporations, and social purpose corporations.

Despite the interest in social business and the passage of numerous social enterprise laws, the basic corporate governance framework has stayed largely the same. In both socially-focused traditional companies and in newly formed social enterprises, the corporate governance system is one that empowers directors, officers, and shareholders, but largely ignores other stakeholders such as employees, customers, vendors, creditors, the environment, and the community at large.

This Article explores the shortcomings of the current corporate governance framework, reveals inadequacies in previous proposals to focus firms on all stakeholders, and proposes a stakeholder advisory board as a solution. As proposed, the stakeholder advisory board will give all major stakeholders a more direct voice in firm governance and will grant more stakeholders limited but significantly powers, without harmfully disrupting the efficiency of the board of directors. If adopted, the stakeholder advisory board will better align the corporate governance framework with the recent social business movement by including representatives of all stakeholder groups in decision-making. This proposal suggests mandating adoption of a stakeholder advisory board for large social enterprises, and encourages the voluntary adoption of a stakeholder advisory board by all firms that take their social commitments seriously.

March 3, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Conference on Doing Business in Cuba: Legal, Ethical, and Compliance Challenges

Businesses from small farmers to cruise lines are anxiously awaiting President Trump's policy on Cuba and how/if he will rescind President Obama's Executive Orders relaxing restrictions on doing business with the island.

If you're in the South Florida area next Friday March 10th, please consider attending the timely conference on Doing Business in Cuba: Legal, Ethical, and Compliance Challenges from 8:00 am-4:30 pm at the Andreas School of Business, Barry University. The Florida Bar has granted 6.5 CLE credits, including for ethics and for certifications in Business Litigation and International Law. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is organizing the event.

As a member of the Commission and an academic who has just completed my third article on Cuba, I'm excited to provide the opening address for the event. I'm even more excited about our speakers John Kavulich, President, U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc;  the general counsel of Carnival Cruise Lines;  mayors of Miami Beach, Coral Gables, and Doral; director of the Miami International Airport; a number of academic experts from local universities; Commissioners Nelson Bellido and Judge Lawrence Schwartz; and outside counsel  from MDO Partners, Akerman LLP, Holland & Knight, Greenberg Traurig, Squire Patton Boggs, and Gray Robinson.

It promises to be a lively and substantive discussion.

Registration closes on Monday, March 6th. The $50 admission fee includes breakfast, lunch, and all materials. Go to ethics.miamidade.gov or call 305-579-2594 to register or for more information.  You can also leave comments below or email me at mnarine@stu.edu.

March 1, 2017 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bruner on "Center-Left Politics and Corporate Governance: What Is the 'Progressive' Agenda?"

Christopher Bruner has posted Center-Left Politics and Corporate Governance: What Is the 'Progressive' Agenda? on SSRN. You can download the paper here.  Here is the abstract:

For as long as corporations have existed, debates have persisted among scholars, judges, and policymakers regarding how best to describe their form and function as a positive matter, and how best to organize relations among their various stakeholders as a normative matter. This is hardly surprising given the economic and political stakes involved with control over vast and growing "corporate" resources, and it has become commonplace to speak of various approaches to corporate law in decidedly political terms. In particular, on the fundamental normative issue of the aims to which corporate decision-making ought to be directed, shareholder-centric conceptions of the corporation have long been described as politically right-leaning while stakeholder-oriented conceptions have conversely been described as politically left-leaning. When the frame of reference for this normative debate shifts away from state corporate law, however, a curious reversal occurs. Notably, when the debate shifts to federal political and judicial contexts, one often finds actors associated with the political left championing expansion of shareholders' corporate governance powers, and those associated with the political right advancing more stakeholder-centric conceptions of the corporation.

The aim of this article is to explain this disconnect and explore its implications for the development of U.S. corporate governance, with particular reference to the varied and evolving corporate governance views of the political left - the side of the spectrum where, I argue, the more dramatic and illuminating shifts have occurred over recent decades, and where the state/federal divide is more difficult to explain. A widespread and fundamental reorientation of the Democratic Party toward decidedly centrist national politics fundamentally altered the role of corporate governance and related issues in the project of assembling a competitive coalition capable of appealing to working- and middle-class voters. Grappling with the legal, regulatory, and institutional frameworks - as well as the economic and cultural trends - that conditioned and incentivized this shift will prove critical to understanding the state/federal divide regarding what the "progressive" corporate governance agenda ought to be and how the situation might change as the Democratic Party formulates responses to the November 2016 election.

I begin with a brief terminological discussion, examining how various labels associated with the political left tend to be employed in relevant contexts, as well as varying ways of defining the field of "corporate governance" itself. I then provide an overview of "progressive" thinking about corporate governance in the context of state corporate law, contrasting those views with the very different perspectives associated with center-left political actors at the federal level.

Based on this descriptive account, I then examine various legal, regulatory, and institutional frameworks, as well as important economic and cultural trends, that have played consequential roles in prompting and/or exacerbating the state/federal divide. These include fundamental distinctions between state corporate law and federal securities regulation; the differing postures of lawmakers in Delaware and Washington, DC; the rise of institutional investors; the evolution of organized labor interests; certain unintended consequences of extra-corporate regulation; and the Democratic Party's sharp rightward shift since the late 1980s. The article closes with a brief discussion of the prospects for state/federal convergence, concluding that the U.S. corporate governance system will likely remain theoretically incoherent for the foreseeable future due to the extraordinary range of relevant actors and the fundamentally divergent forces at work in the very different legal and political settings they inhabit.

February 23, 2017 in Corporate Governance, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The President and Responsible Business Conduct

     This post does not concern President Trump’s own business empire. Rather, this post will be the first of a few to look at how the President retains, repeals, or replaces some of the work that President Obama put in place in December 2016 as part of the National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct. Many EU nations established their NAPS year ago, but the U.S. government engaged in two years of stakeholder consultations and coordinated with several federal agencies before releasing its NAP.

     Secretary of State Tillerson will play a large role in enforcing or revising many of the provisions of the NAP because the State Department promotes the Plan on its page addressing corporate social responsibility. Unlike many federal government pages, this page has not changed (yet) with the new administration. As the State Department explained in December, “the NAP reflects the government's commitment to promoting human rights and fighting corruption through partnerships with domestic and international stakeholders. An important part of this commitment includes encouraging companies to embrace high standards for responsible business conduct.” Over a dozen federal agencies worked to develop the NAP.

     We now have a new Treasury Secretary and will soon have a new Secretary of Labor, presumably FIU Law Dean and former US Attorney Alex Acosta, a new SEC Chair, presumably Jay Clayton, and a new Secretary of Commerce, presumably Wilbur Ross. These men, along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Tillerson will lead the key agencies enforcing or perhaps revising the country’s commitment to responsible business conduct.

    The following list of priorities and initiatives comes directly from the Fact Sheet:

Strengthening laws preventing the import of goods produced by forced labor to ensure products made under exploitative conditions do not gain U.S. market access.

Updating social and environmental standards criteria for financing through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to promote high standards through U.S.-supported private investment.

Creating guidance on social safeguards for USAID’s development programs.

Funding efforts to promote awareness and implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Publishing, for the first time, an annual report by the U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines.

Identifying means through trade agreements to encourage companies to engage in RBC.

Enhancing information sharing with sub-national governments on public procurement best practices, to ensure that governments at all levels promote RBC through purchasing.

Collaboration with Stakeholders

In order to achieve shared RBC goals, it is essential for governments to work with the private sector, as well as with civil society, labor, and other stakeholders, to leverage each other’s resources and strengths.  The USG’s measures to collaborate with such stakeholders include:

Establishing a formal mechanism for increased government participation in “multi-stakeholder initiatives” that promote RBC in various sectors and regions.

Convening stakeholders to develop and promote effective metrics for measuring and managing labor rights impacts in supply chains.

Facilitating a dialogue with stakeholders on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Promoting worker voice and empowerment in global supply chains via new tools that allow workers in national supply chains to directly report potential labor abuses and workplace safety violations, as well as leveraging public-private partnerships to more fully incorporate the perspectives of workers.

Facilitating RBC by Companies

The USG encourages companies to follow the best domestic and international practices and is supportive of company efforts to voluntarily report on certain aspects of their operations.  The USG produces a number of reports that can be useful for companies as they seek to uphold high standards, sometimes in challenging environments.  The NAP sets forth an illustrative list of USG initiatives to further that work, including the following commitments:

Creating an online database containing government reports on issues such as human rights, human trafficking including forced labor, child labor, and investment climates so that companies can more effectively make investment decisions and mitigate risk.

Providing new and increased training for USG officers and officials, including those who serve abroad, on RBC issues so that government officials are well-equipped to advise companies on considerations such as the status of labor rights, human rights and transparency, in a particular operating environment.

Training for USG officials on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related issues.

Updating country-level public land governance profiles that explain land laws, land use patterns, gender concerns, land administration, and land markets within a given country.  These profiles are an important tool for businesses making responsible land-based investments in a given country.

Recognizing Positive Performance

U.S. companies make tremendous contributions to communities around the world by generating economic growth, creating jobs, spurring innovation, and providing solutions to pressing challenges such as access to clean energy, healthcare, and technology.  The USG recognizes and highlights when companies achieve high standards with meaningful results for workers and communities. Such items include...

Developing an online mechanism to identify, document, and publicize lessons learned and best practices related to corporate actions that promote and respect human rights. 

Providing Access to Remedy

Even when governments and companies seek to act responsibly, challenges can arise.  Both governments and companies should have mechanisms in place by which affected parties can raise concerns, report problems, and seek remedies, as appropriate.  Through the NAP, the USG is furthering its commitment to this objective by:

Improving the performance of the U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, including by announcing a fall 2017 peer review, organizing workshops to promote RBC, and publishing an outreach plan.

Hosting a forum for dialogue with stakeholders on opportunities and challenges regarding issues of remedy, as well as how the USG can best support effective remedy processes.

    I will continue to follow up on this issue as well as how corporate compliance and governance may change under the Trump Administration.

February 16, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 10, 2017

First Standalone Publicly Traded Benefit Corporation - Laureate Education

Laureate Education recently became the first standalone publicly traded benefit corporation. They are organized under Delaware's public benefit corporation (PBC) law, are also a certified B corporation, and will be trading as LAUR on NASDAQ.  

Plum Organics, also a Delaware PBC, is a wholly owned subsidiary of publicly-traded Campbell Soup Company. And Etsy is a publicly traded certified-B corporation, but is organized under traditional Delaware corporation law.

Whether the for-profit educator Laureate will hurt or help the popularity of benefit corporations remains to be seen, but some for-profit educators have not been getting good press lately.

Inside Higher Ed reports on Laureate Education's IPO as a benefit corporation below:

The largest U.S.-based for-profit college chain became the first benefit corporation to go public Wednesday morning.

Laureate Education, which has more than a million students at 71 institutions across 25 countries, had been privately traded since 2007. Several major for-profit higher education companies have over the last decade bounced back and forth between publicly and privately held status; also yesterday, by coincidence, the Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, formally went back into private hands….In its public debut, the company raised $490 million….

Becker said the move to become the first benefit corporation that is public is one way to show that Laureate is putting quality first.“There is certainly plenty of skepticism about whether for-profit companies can add value to society, and I feel strongly we can,” Becker said, adding that Laureate received certification from the nonprofit group B Lab after years of “rigorous” evaluations….

But the certification and the move to becoming a benefit corporation doesn’t prove a for-profit will not make bad decisions or commit risky actions that hurt students, said Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and for-profit critic.

"The one thing that being a benefit corporation does is reduce the likelihood that shareholders would sue the corporation for failing to operate in the shareholders' financial interest," Shireman said. "So it makes a marginal difference, and there's no evidence that benefit corporations, in the 10 or so years they've existed in the economy, cause better behavior."

Companies and investors could make better choices and decisions for their students without needing a benefit corporation model to do that, Shireman said, adding that the legal protection it provides is small.

"What's more important are what commitments are being made under the rubric of being a benefit corporation," he said. "How is that going to be measured and enforced … and how can they be changed or overruled by stockholders."

Head of Legal Policy at B Lab Rick Alexander, also authored a post on Laureate Education. For those who do not know, B Lab is the nonprofit responsible for the B Corp Certification and an important force behind the benefit corporation legislation that has passed in 30 states.

 

February 10, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What do we know about the future of corporate governance and compliance so far under Trump?

Shortly after the election in November, I blogged about Eleven Corporate Governance and Compliance Questions for the President-Elect. Those questions (in italics) and my updates are below:

  1. What will happen to Dodd-Frank? There are already a number of house bills pending to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, but will President Trump actually try to repeal all of it, particularly the Dodd-Frank whistleblower rule? How would that look optically? Former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins, a prominent critic of Dodd-Frank and the whistleblower program in particular, is part of Trump's transition team on economic issues, so perhaps a revision, at a minimum, may not be out of the question.

Last week, via Executive Order, President Trump made it clear (without naming the law) that portions of Dodd-Frank are on the chopping block and asked for a 120-day review. Prior to signing the order, the President explained, “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank…I have so many people, friends of mine, with nice businesses, they can’t borrow money, because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations and Dodd-Frank.” An executive order cannot repeal Dodd-Frank, however. That would require a vote of 60 votes in the Senate. To repeal or modify portions, the Senate only requires a majority vote.

Some portions of Dodd-Frank are already gone including the transparency provision, §1504, which NGOs had touted because it forced US issuers in the extractive industries to disclose certain payments made to foreign governments. I think this was a mistake. By the time you read this post, the controversial conflict minerals rule, which requires companies to determine and disclose whether tin, tungsten, tantalum, or gold come from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding countries, may also be history. The President may issue another executive order this week that may spell the demise of the rule, especially because others in Congress have already introduced bills to repeal it. I agree with the repeal, as I have written about here, because I don’t think that the SEC is the right agency to address the devastating human rights crisis in Congo.

As for the whistleblower provisions, it is too soon to tell. See #7 below.

Based on an earlier Executive Order meant to cut regulations in general and the President’s reliance on corporate raider/activist Carl Icahn as regulation czar, we can assume that the financial sector will experience fewer and not more regulations under Trump.

  1. What will happen with the two SEC commissioner vacancies? How will this president and Congress fund the agency? 3. Will SEC Chair Mary Jo White stay or go and how might that affect the work of the agency to look at disclosure reform?

President Trump has nominated Jay Clayton, a lawyer who has represented Goldman Sachs and Alibaba to replace former prosecutor Mary Jo White. Based on his background and past representations, we may see less enforcement of the FCPA and more focus on capital formation and disclosure reform. Observers are divided on the FCPA enforcement because 2016 had some record-breaking fines. As for the other SEC vacancies, I will continue to monitor this.

  1. How will the vow to freeze the federal workforce affect OSHA, which enforces Sarbanes-Oxley? 

The Department of Labor enforces OSHA, and the current nominee for Secretary, Andy Pudzer, is a fast food CEO with some labor issues of his own. His pro-business stance and his opposition to increases in the minimum wage and the DOL white-collar exemption changes don’t necessarily predict how he would enforce SOX, but we can assume that it won’t be as much of a priority as rolling back regulations he has already publicly opposed.

  1. In addition to the issues that Trump has with TPP and NAFTA, how will his administration and the Congress deal with the Export-Import (Ex-IM) bank, which cannot function properly as it is due to resistance from some in Congress. Ex-Im provides financing, export credit insurance, loans, and other products to companies (including many small businesses) that wish to do business in politically-risky countries. 

The U.S. has pulled out of TPP. Trump has not specifically commented on Ex-Im, but many believe that prospects don't look good.

  1. How will a more conservative Supreme Court deal with the business cases that will appear before it? 

I will comment on this after the confirmation hearings of nominee Neil Gorsuch. Others have already predicted that he will be pro-business.

  1. Who will be the Attorney General and how might that affect criminal prosecution of companies and individuals? Should we expect a new memo or revision of policies for Assistant US Attorneys that might undo some of the work of the Yates Memo, which focuses on corporate cooperation and culpable individuals?

Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed yesterday after a contentious hearing. During his hearing, he indicated that he supported whistleblower provisions related to the False Claims Act, and many believe that he will retain retain the Yates Memo. Ironically, prior to that confirmation, President Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, for refusing to defend the President’s executive order on refugees and travel.

  1. What will happen with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which the DC Circuit recently ruled was unconstitutional in terms of its structure and power?

Despite, running on a populist theme, Trump has targeted a number of institutions meant to protect consumers. Based on reports, we will likely see some major restrictions on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the rules related to disclosure and interest rates. Trump will likely replace the head, Richard Cordray, whom many criticize for his perceived unfettered power and the ability to set his own budget. The Financial Stability Oversight Council, established to address large, failing firms without the need for a bailout, is also at risk. The Volker Rule, which restricts banks from certain proprietary investments and limits ownership of covered funds, may also see revisions.

  1. What will happen with the Obama administration's executive orders on Cuba, which have chipped away at much of the embargo? The business community has lobbied hard on ending the embargo and eliminating restrictions, but Trump has pledged to require more from the Cuban government. Would he also cancel the executive orders as well?

I will comment on this in a separate post.

  1. What happens to the Public Company Accounting Board, which has had an interim director for several months?

The PCAOB is not directly covered by the February 3rd Executive Order described in #1, and many believe that the Executive Order related to paring back regulations will not affect the agency either, although the agency is already conducting its own review of regulations. In December, the agency received a budget increase.

  1. Jeb Henserling, who has adamantly opposed Ex-Im, the CFPB, and Dodd-Frank is under consideration for Treasury Secretary. What does this say about President-elect Trump's economic vision?

President Trump has tapped ex-Goldman Sachs veteran Steve Mnuchin, and some believe that he will be good for both Wall Street and Main Street. More to come on this in the future.

I will continue to update this list over the coming months. I will post separately today updating last week’s post on the effects of consumer boycotts and how public sentiment has affected Superbowl commercials, litigation, and the First Daughter all in the past few days.

February 9, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Appraisal Standard Intellectual "Cage Match": DFC Global Corp Amici Briefs

Prominent corporate governance, corporate finance and economics professors face off in opposing amici briefs filed in DFC Global Corp. v.  Muirfield Value Partners LP, appeal pending before the Delaware Supreme Court.   The Chancery Daily newsletter, described it, in perhaps my favorite phrasing of legal language ever:  "By WWE standards it may be a cage match of flyweight proportions, but by Delaware corporate law standards, a can of cerebral whoopass is now deemed open."   

Point #1: Master Class in Persuasive Legal Writing: Framing the Issue

Reversal Framing: "This appeal raises the question whether, in appraisal litigation challenging the acquisition price of a company, the Court of Chancery should defer to the transaction price when it was reached as a result of an arm’s-length auction process."

vs.

Affirmance Framing: "This appeal raises the question whether, in a judicial appraisal determining the fair value of dissenting stock, the Court of Chancery must automatically award the merger price where the transaction appeared to involve an arm’s length buyer in a public sale."

Point #2:  Summary of Brief Supporting Fair Market Valuation:  Why the Court of Chancery should defer to the deal price in an arm's length auction

  • It would reduce litigation and simply the process.
  • The Chancery Court Judges are ill-equipped for the sophisticated cash-flow analysis (ouch, that's a rough point to make).
  • Appraisal does not properly incentivize the use of arm's length auctions if they are not sufficiently protected/respected.
  • Appraisal seeks the false promise of THE right price, when price in this kind of market (low competition, unique goods) can best be thought of as a range.  The inquiry should be whether the transaction price is within the range of a fair price.  A subset of this argument (and the point of the whole brief) is that the auction process is the best evidence of fair price.
  • Appraisal process is flawed because the court discounted the market price in its final valuation.  The argument is that if the transaction price is not THE right price, then it should not be a factor in coming up with THE right price.
  • Appraisal process is flawed because the final valuation relies upon expert opinions that are created in a litigation vacuum, sealed-off from market pressure of "real" valuations.
  • The volatility in the appraisal marketthe outcome of the litigation and the final pricedistorts the auction process.  Evidence of this is the creation of appraisal closing conditions.

Point #3: Summary of Brief Supporting Appraisal Actions:  Why the Court of Chancery should reject a rule that the transaction price—in an arm's length auction—is conclusive evidence of fair price in appraisal proceedings.

  • Statutory interpretation requires the result.  Delaware Section 262 states that judges will "take into account all factors" in determining appraisal action prices.  To require the deal price to be the "fair" price, eviscerates the statutory language and renders it null.  
    • The Delaware Legislature had an opportunity to revise Section 262and did so in 2015, narrowing the scope of eligible appraisal transactions and remediesbut left intact the "all factors" language.
  • The statutory appraisal remedy is separate from the common law/fiduciary obligations of directors in transactions so a transaction without a conflict of interest and even cured by shareholder vote could still contain fact-specific conditions that would make an appraisal remedy appropriate.
  • There are appropriate judicial resources to handle the appraisal actions because of the expertise of the Court of Chancery, which is buttressed by the ability to appoint a neutral economic expert to assist with valuations and to adopt procedures and standards for expert valuations in appraisal cases.
  • The threat of the appraisal action creates a powerful ex ante benefit to transaction price because it helps bolster and ensure that the transaction price is fair and without challenge.
  • Appraisal actions serve as a proxy for setting a credible reserve in the auction price, which buyers and sellers may be prohibited from doing as a result of their fiduciary duties.
  • Any distortion of the THE market by appraisal actions is a feature, not a bug.  All legal institutions operate along side markets and exert influences, situations that are acceptable with fraud and torts.  Any affect that appraisal actions create have social benefits and are an intended benefit.
  • Let corporations organized/formed in Delaware enjoy the benefits of being a Delaware corporation by giving them full access to the process and expertise of the Delaware judiciary.

Conclusions:

My thinking in the area more closely aligns with the "keep appraisal action full review" camp on the theory--both policy and economic.  Also the language in the supporting/affirmance brief is excellent (they describe the transaction price argument as a judicial straight jacket!).  I must admit, however, that I am sympathetic to the resources and procedural criticisms raised by the reversal brief. That there is no way for some corporate transactions, ex ante, to prevent a full scale appraisal action litigationa process that is costly and time consumingis a hard pill to swallow.  I can imagine the frustration of the lawyers explaining to a BOD that there may be no way to foreclose this outcome.  Although I hesitate to put it in these terms, my ultimate conclusion would require more thinking about whether the benefits of appraisal actions outlined in the affirmance brief outweigh the costs to the judiciary and to the parties as outlined in the reversal brief.  These are all points that I invite readers to weigh in on the comments--especially those with experience litigating these cases.

I also want to note the rather nuanced observation in the affirmance brief about the distinction between statutory standards and common law/fiduciary duty.  This important intellectual distinction about the source of the power and its intent is helpful in appraisal actions, but also in conflict of interest/safe harbor under Delaware law evaluations.

For the professors out there, if anyone covers appraisal actions in an upper-level course or has students writing on the topic-- these two briefs distill the relevant case law and competing theories with considerable force.  

-Anne Tucker

February 8, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Delaware, Litigation, M&A, Shareholders, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)