Thursday, March 26, 2015

Corporations, the State, and the Rule of Law- Call for Papers

Below is a call for papers and description of a weeklong project on business and human rights. If you are interested, please contact one of the organizers below. I plan to participate and may also be able to answer some questions.

Lat Crit Study Space Project in Guatemala

Corporations, the State, and the Rule of Law

We are excited to invite you to participate in an exciting Study Space Project in Guatemala. Study Space, a LatCrit, Inc. initiative, is a series of intensive workshops, held at diverse locations around the world. This 2015 Study Space project involves a 7 working day field visit to Guatemala between Saturday June 27 (arrival date) and Saturday July 4, 2015 (departure date).  We are reaching out to you because we believe that your interests, scholarship, and service record align well with the proposed focus of our trip.

This call for papers proposes a trip to Guatemala to study more closely the phenomena of failed nations viewed from the perspective of the relationship of the state of Guatemala with corporations. With the recent surge of Central American unaccompanied minors and children fleeing with their mothers, the United States has had to confront the human face of children and women whose claim to asylum or other immigration relief is rooted in the dire reality that the countries from which they flee cannot or will not protect them. Largely, these fleeing migrants are escaping violence perpetuated by private actors, at times gang members or even their own parents or spouses. Their stories of flight cannot be disengaged from the broader context in which the violence occurs. Theirs is also the story of failed nations, characterized by ineptitude, weakness, and even worse, indifference or at times even complicity.

This story of failed nations applies beyond the reign of private “rogues” whom everyone agrees are bad actors (i.e., gangs, drug traffickers, violent criminals). The other side of the coin, invisible in this new wave of Central American refugees, is a more nuanced story about the failing role of some of these Central American nations in regulating the acts of corporations, whether owned by the oligarchy or operated by transnational actors. Corporations are entities with great potential to promote and further the public good, such as through job creation and economic development. Corporations, however, can also be the cause of social ills, particularly when left unregulated or at times even supported by the state to pursue private interests that conflict with the public good. In Guatemala, examples of deeply problematic unregulated arenas abound-- from the lack of antitrust legislation to the absence of meaningful environmental protections to protect even the most precious of natural resources, such as water. There is also the misuse of public institutions and laws to shield corporations from their public and fiscal responsibility or to aid them in capitalizing on public goods, including minerals or land. Ironically, here, the state apparatus functions quite effectively to exert its authority in the execution of laws. The failure, however, rests in the illegitimacy of law, not in its execution.

Guatemala is a nation that is experiencing tremendous social upheaval from the acts of corporations on issues that include mining, water uses, deforestation, genetically modified seeds, free-trade zones, and maquiladoras, to name a few. Caught between the state and corporations are the communities most deeply affected by both the absence and the presence of law in ways that appear to conflict with the public interest. The questions that arise include how law can and should restore the balance between the promotion of investment and economic development with the protection of the public interest and the preservation of the public good. These inquiries also involve issues related to the protection of rights, whether of individuals or communities in the collective, including the right to self-determination, the right to food and water, or the right to dignified work.

The purpose of this trip is not to single out Guatemala for scrutiny. The reality is that the bilateral and multilateral relations that Guatemala is forced to sustain with other more powerful nations aggravate many of its pressing problems. Questions about Guatemala’s regulation of corporations must also address the relationship between the powerful transnational forces of globalization and the domestic laws of Guatemala, including those related to trade liberalization and intellectual property. This inquiry must also acknowledge how the absence of accountability of transnational corporations operating in Guatemala in the corporation’s own nation-state – including the power these corporations have to influence law-making-- should lead us to a discussion of shared responsibility and a proposal for solutions that are transnational and international in character.

Should you decide to participate, you would be encouraged and welcomed to suggest specific topics (and field visits) you would like to be included as part of this project. While we are still working on a precise itinerary (which you can help us shape), our projected goals right now are to visit with government officials, non-profits, community groups and the private sector with a special focus on labor and environment. The trip would include time in Guatemala City but also time in key rural sectors. For example, we are planning to visit a transnational mining site and the free-trade zone where maquiladoras are concentrated in Guatemala. As part of the trip, we will include orientations and debriefings with the group so we can share knowledge, impressions, and insights as the trip progresses. 

The cost of your participation (excluding flight) is $1,900.  This fee will cover housing, food, in-country transportation, conference space, and other fees that we will pay such as to translators, community groups assisting with logistics, and a modest fee to Luis Mogollón (a Guatemalan lawyer with significant law school academic program development experience in Guatemala) who will spend countless hours making this trip safe and enjoyable for all of us.  The flight to Guatemala from the United States should range between $600 to $800. 

Our aim is to publish essays from this project as a book in Spanish and English. We hope to have between 15-20 contributions. While ideally participants will speak Spanish, we can accommodate non-Spanish speakers (or those who only speak “un poquito”) and will hire interpreters to work with you during the trip to Guatemala.  Keep in mind that you may need to conduct some research in Spanish (at least for primary sources) depending on the focus on your project. We also hope to present papers about this project at several conferences upon the completion of our project, including at LatCrit, Inc. and ideally in Guatemala.

The organizing Committee is comprised of Raquel Aldana, Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship at Pacific McGeorge School of Law; Steven Bender, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Seattle University School of Law; José R. Juárez, Professor of Law and Director of the Spanish for Lawyers Program at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law; Beth Lyon, Director of the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic and Professor of Law at Villanova University School of Law; Mario Mancilla, Technical Assistant of the Secretariat of Environmental Matters, CAFTA-DR; Luis Mogollón, Adjunct Professor and Consultant of the Inter-American Program from Pacific McGeorge; Rachael Salcido, Professor of Law at Pacific McGeorge School of Law; and Enrique Sánchez-Usera, Chair of the Inter-Disciplinary Studies at the University of Rafael Landívar Law School.

Please do not hesitate to contact any of us with questions. We do hope you decide to join us in this great project.

 

 

March 26, 2015 in Business Associations, Law Reviews, Call for Papers, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Marcia Narine, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Despite Low Oil and Gas Prices, the Energy Sector Is Relatively Healthy

The Economist has a helpful brief outline -- here -- of why oil prices are so low.  I continue to think that oil prices will stabilize in the $55-$65 range, but now that it's apparent that most Bakken oil is profitable around $42, I would not be surprised to see prices bounce around in that range periodically for a while, too. 

A few things to keep in perspective when you hear about how the energy sector is suffering: 

(1) It's not very often through the years that anyone would be upset by low energy prices.  That usually is a sign of good things to come in terms of markets because low energy prices can reduce costs of manufacturing, they tend to increase demand (in energy and beyond), and it tends to mean more money in consumers' pockets. Those are usually very good things. 

(2) Despite layoffs are some energy sector companies, and a dramatic slow down of drilling, if you looked back to 2005 0r 2006 (an even more recently) people would have been thrilled to see the sector with this many jobs. Even another 20-30% slow down represents a strong and viable industry.

(3) Legal work for the sector is likely to carry on at a strong pace. A slow down will mean a slower pace in many sectors, and mineral leasing and other title work will likely slow significantly, but slow downs can lead to increases in M&A, restructuring, and litigation. 

There are concerns, but it's always helpful to keep things in perspective. It's fair to raise questions and highlight the rapid changes, but it's not all gloom and doom.    

March 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Faculty Lounge Mini-Symposium on Board Diversity

Over at the Faculty Lounge, Kim Krawiec (Duke) is hosting an interesting mini-symposium on board diversity entitled “What’s The Return On Equality?”

The posts to date are linked to at the bottom of this recent post.

March 25, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wolf Packs, Corporate Cocaine, and Activist Hedge Funds- Sharfman adds his view

Bernard Sharfman has posted a new article entitled “Activist Hedge Funds in a World of Board Independence: Long-Term Value Creators or Destroyers?" In the paper he makes the argument that hedge fund activism contributes to long-term value creation if it can be assumed that the typical board of a public company has an adequate amount of independence to act as an arbitrator between executive management and the activist hedge fund. He also discusses these funds’ focus on disinvestment and attempts to challenge those in the Marty Lipton camp, who view these funds less charitably. In fact, Lipton recently called 2014 “the year of the wolf pack.” The debate on the merits of activist hedge funds has been heating up. Last month Forbes magazine outlined “The Seven Deadly Sins of Activist Hedge Funds,” including their promotion of share buybacks, aka “corporate cocaine.” Forbes was responding to a more favorable view of these funds by The Economist in its February 7, 2015 cover story.

Whether you agree with Sharfman or Lipton, the article is clearly timely and worth a read. The abstract is below:

Numerous empirical studies have shown that hedge fund activism has led to enhanced returns to investors and increased firm performance. Nevertheless, leading figures in the corporate governance world have taken issue with these studies and have argued that hedge fund activism leads to long-term value destruction.

In this article, it is argued that an activist hedge fund creates long-term value by sending affirming signals to the board of directors (Board) that its executive management team may be making inefficient decisions and providing recommendations on how the company should proceed in light of these inefficiencies. These recommendations require the Board to review and question the direction executive management is taking the company and then choosing which path the company should take, the one recommended by executive management, the one recommended by the activist hedge fund or a combination of both. Critical to this argument is the existence of a Board that can act as an independent arbitrator in deciding whose recommendations should be followed.

In addition, an explanation is given for why activist hedge funds do not provide recommendations that involve long-term investment. There are two reasons for this. First, the cognitive limitations and skill sets of those individuals who participate as activist hedge funds. Second, and most importantly, the stock market signals provided by value investors voting with their feet are telling the rest of the stock market that a particular public company is poorly managed and that it either needs to be replaced or given less assets to manage. These are the kind of signals and information that activist hedge funds are responding to when buying significant amounts of company stock and then making their recommendations for change. Therefore, it is not surprising that the recommendations of activist hedge funds will focus on trying to reduce the amount of assets under current management.

 

 

 

 

 

March 20, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, M&A, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How to Get in Your Own Way: Tesla Shut Out of West Virginia

West Virginia (like Michigan and New Jersey, among others) has decided to follow other states in limiting options for Tesla sales.  As the Charleston Gazette reports: 

On the floor later Friday evening, the House put an amendment in a bill designed to shore up car dealers’ legal standings in dealings with auto manufacturers that effectively blocks innovative electric car manufacturer Tesla from doing business in the state.

The floor debate is best left forgotten: Several delegates played the crony capitalism card, talking about how their local car dealers are generous in sponsoring Little League teams and community events (not to mention campaign contributions), while other sneered about the company being owned by California billionaire Elon Musk (some called him “Monk,” but fortunately no one referred to him as “Elton”), and claiming the company relies on federal subsidies.

Never mind that it was stated that fewer than a dozen West Virginians own Teslas, or that a boom in demand for electric-powered cars might just be a good thing for a state that provides coal for electric power plants.

If you're about a free (or at least more free) markets, why stop a competitor from competing?  Sorry, but the federal subsidy argument for the auto industry went out the window when the government bailed out GM and Chrysler.  

Beyond that, for the life of me, I can't understand why coal friendly constituencies seem so often to be hostile to electric vehicles. (In fairness, Kentucky just added a Tesla charging station.)  If it uses electricity, you should be all for it. Why is running a car on electricity any different than leaving the lights on all night?  If you're for consumption, who cares who does it? 

There is some debate about whether electric cars are better for the environment than gasoline powered cars.  This remains an open question.  But there's little doubt that increased demand for electricity is generally good for the coal industry.  

More important, though, if consumers want to buy a Tesla, why not let them?  What's the value in blocking consumers from buying the vehicles they want?  Oh yeah, rent seeking and cronyism.  By the way, the West Virginia legislature knows we can buy cars in other states, right? 

March 17, 2015 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 6, 2015

March Madness Is Coming -- And Legally Speaking, It Is Madness

Ten days from now will mark the start of the 2015 NCAA men's basketball tournament -- one of the most watched sporting events of the year.   Recently, the NCAA sold 14 years worth of television broadcast rights to the NCAA Tournament for $10.8 Billion.  On an annual basis, that comes to an annual sum of  $770 Million per year.  

The athletes who play in these games, by contrast, do not receive any share of the derived revenues, nor are they allowed to endorse products or sign autographs for money.  In addition, the most successful teams in this tournament will have athletes that are required to miss upwards of nine class days based on a tournament schedule that is created to accommodate television broadcasts.

As a guest blogger for the month of March, I will be discussing the legal issues related to NCAA amateurism and the economic realities of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.  Some of the topics I will discuss include why the NCAA is indeed an economic cartel, why the U.S. district court's decision in O'Bannon v. NCAA does not go far enough to protect college athletes, why perhaps the National Labor Relations Board should grant college athletes the right to unionize, and how the NCAA men's basketball tournament could be structured differently if student education, rather than athletic revenues, were truly a top priority.  

Thank you to Haskell Murray for providing me with this wonderful forum to share my ideas and scholarship.  And to all of the Business Law Prof Blog readers, please do not worry: I have no plans to be a Debbie Downer.  I will, however, talk seriously about the economic and legal realities of college sports and how we, as academics, can make a difference.

March 6, 2015 in Current Affairs, Ethics, Games, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Preparing today's students for the legal market

It’s always nice to be validated. Day two into torturing my business associations students with basic accounting and corporate finance, I was able to post the results of a recent study about what they were learning and why. "Torture" is a strong word-- I try to break up the lessons by showing up to the minute video clips about companies that they know to illustrate how their concepts apply to real life settings. But for some students it remains a foreign language no matter how many background YouTube videos I suggest, or how interesting the debate is about McDonalds and Shake Shack on CNBC.

My alma mater Harvard Law School surveyed a number of BigLaw graduates about the essential skills and coursework for both transactional and litigation practitioners. As I explained in an earlier post, most of my students will likely practice solo or in small firms. But I have always believed that the skills sets are inherently the same regardless of the size of the practice or resources of the client. My future litigators need to know what documents to ask for in discovery and what questions to ask during the deposition of a financial expert. My family law and trust and estates hopefuls must understand the basics of a business structure if they wish to advise on certain assets. My criminal law aficionados may have to defend or prosecute criminal enterprises that are as sophisticated as any multinational corporation. Those who want to be legislative aides or go into government must understand how to close loopholes in regulations.

What are the top courses students should take? The abstract is below:

We report the results of an online survey, conducted on behalf of Harvard Law School, of 124 practicing attorneys at major law firms. The survey had two main objectives: (1) to assist students in selecting courses by providing them with data about the relative importance of courses; and (2) to provide faculty with information about how to improve the curriculum and best advise students. The most salient result is that students were strongly advised to study accounting and financial statement analysis, as well as corporate finance. These subject areas were viewed as particularly valuable, not only for corporate/transactional lawyers, but also for litigators. Intriguingly, non-traditional courses and skills, such as business strategy and teamwork, are seen as more important than many traditional courses and skills.

Did you take these courses? Has your school started adding more of this type of coursework and does your faculty see the value? Do you agree with the results of this survey? Let me know in the comments or email me at mnarine@stu.edu.

March 6, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Jobs, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Markets and Boycotts Part 2

Last week, I posted about Walmart’s ballyhooed wage hike and asked whether boycotts and activism actually work. Apparently, the President was so impressed that he called the company’s CEO to thank him. Some Walmart workers, however, aren’t as pleased because without more hours, they still can’t make ends meet. Nonetheless, TJX, the parent company of retailers TJ Maxx and Home Goods announced yesterday that its employees would also receive a pay raise. Is this altruism? Have the retail giants caved to pressure?

As some commented on the blog last week and to me privately, it’s more likely that these megaretailers have implemented these “pro-employee” moves to reduce turnover, raise morale, and most important compete in a tightening job market. But one LinkedIn commenter from Australia believes that boycotts in general can work, stating:

My experience with having organised boycotts is that they work, but they take time. They create the conditions for public awareness of corporate activities, and put pressure on the company to change. They are effectively the 'bad cop' of civil society pressure. Consequently, they do not work on their own, requiring also the 'good cop' - civil society organisations and market conditions that allow the subject of the boycott to shift behaviour. Market conditions include a broader 'meta boycott' in which companies needing access to supply chains must change because supply chains have changed, only accepting product that is acceptable to CSOs (the 'good' CSOs, who have certification programmes, and other initiatives for the company to opt for. If you are looking for a case study of these conditions, I suggest you follow the Tasmanian forest industry debate in Australia. Here, an entire industry was worn down after years of boycotts, market campaigns, and demands from purchasers for FSC certified product only. The fascinating addendum to this case study is the state government (and the Federal government, unsuccessfully), are still advocating behaviours that not even the companies want. They want to sign the 'peace deal' and the government(s) are trying to prolong the 'war' - for political, election-related issues. All this indicates that boycotts do not work in isolation, and if they do they are less likely to work. 

Investors too are putting pressure on companies. Just yesterday, a group of 60 investors with four trillion in assets under management called for companies to do more for workers' human rights, including wages. Because I study business and human rights with a special emphasis on labor issues, I will wait to see what happens with all of this pressure. I will also monitor the share price, shareholder proposals, and whether there is any evidence that consumers reward Walmart and TJX for their better treatment of workers.  

February 26, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Breaking News: Obama Vetoes Keystone XL

President Obama just vetoed the bill approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  The President has said the veto is not about the value of the pipeline, but that it represents the President's view the pipeline should not go around the State Department evaluation process. 

The veto comes at a time when oil transportation is a increasingly an area of concern, especially in light of recent rail accidents in Quebec and West Virginia.  I was recently part of a news story discussing the rail safety concerns in my part of country -- here -- and pipeline transportation tends to be much safer for human safety, though it raises other environmental concerns.

It's not clear whether Keystone XL would be built any time soon, in light of low oil prices, but the veto will certainly keep people talking.  More on this soon.  

February 24, 2015 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Benefit Corporations: What am I Missing--Seriously?

I serve on the Tennessee Bar Association Business Entity Study Committee (BESC) and Business Law Section Executive Committee (mouthfuls, but accurately descriptive).  The BESC was originated to vet proposed changes to business entity statutes in Tennessee.  It was initially populated by members of the Business Law Section and the Tax Law Section, although it's evolved to mostly include members of the former with help from the latter.  The Executive Committee of the Business Law Section reviews the work of the BESC before Tennessee Bar Association leadership takes action.

Just about every legislative session of late, these committees of the Tennessee Bar Association have been asked to review proposed legislation on benefit corporations (termed variously depending on the sponsors).  A review request for a bill proposed for adoption for this session recently came in.  Since I serve on both committees, I get to see these proposed bills all the time.  So far, the proposals have pretty much tracked the B Lab model from a substantive perspective, as tailored to Tennessee law.  To date, we have advised the Tennessee Bar Association that we do not favor this proposed legislation.  Set forth below is a summary of the rationale I usually give.

Continue reading

February 23, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (18)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Did Wal-Mart Prove Me Wrong? Do Boycotts Work?

I have just finished a draft of an article arguing that disclosures don’t work because consumers and investors don’t read them, can’t understand them, don't take any real action when they do pay attention to them, and fail to change corporate behavior when they do threaten boycott. I specifically pointed out the relative lack of success of consumer protests over the years. I also noted that Wal-Mart continues to get bad press for how it treats its employees despite the fact the Norwegian Pension Fund divested hundreds of millions of dollars due to the company’s labor practices, prompting other governments and cities to follow. My thesis—it takes a lot more than divestment and threats of boycott to change company behavior. But perhaps I’m wrong. Yesterday, Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon announced a significant wage increase declaring:

We’re strengthening investments in our people to engage and inspire them to deliver superior customer experiences… We will earn the trust of all Walmart stakeholders by operating great retail businesses, ensuring world-class compliance, and doing good in the world through social and environmental programs in our communities.

The letter to Wal-Mart associates is here. I don’t know which was more striking, the $1 billion dollar move to $9 and then eventually $10 per hour or the fact that he used the word “stakeholders.” Wal-Mart also announced changes that would affect health insurance and shift scheduling, but the main headline concerned the wage hike. Main Street may be happy but Wall Street was not, and the stock price fell after the announcement. Others pointed out that the pay raise is still not enough to pull workers out of poverty.

Does this move mean that boycotts and advocacy really do work and that we will see more of them? Do I have to edit my article or will this be an anomaly? Will other big retailers or fast food chains follow? Will socially responsible investors reinvest in Wal-Mart? Is Wal-Mart trying to pre-empt government regulation on the minimum wage? Is Wal-Mart signaling to regulators in foreign countries that it cares about workers so should be allowed to operate there more freely? 

I will be teaching a course in transnational business and international human rights in the Fall and Wal-Mart will be a case study. A few years ago, I used the company’s CSR report in my corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility seminar.  I asked the students to consider why Wal-Mart’s report looked and felt so different from Target’s, which essentially has many of the same labor issues. I wanted them to think about the marketing behind CSR from a reputational and regulatory perspective. I posited that Wal-Mart’s CSR report was written for regulators. Two weeks later, the company announced its massive and still ongoing bribery investigation. I’m happy for the workers but a bit curious as to what caused the company to make this announcement now. In the meantime, I will be watching the reaction from advocates, the markets, and other companies closely.  

February 20, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Proxy Season: A Gendered View & A Book Recommendation

Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook in his column, Do Activist Investors Target Women C.E.O.'s?, asked earlier this week  if the gender of the CEO influences the target of activist shareholders.  

Only 23 women lead companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. Yet at least a quarter of them have fallen into the cross hairs of activist investors.

The article references Patricia Sellers observations in Fortune last month regarding corporate raider Nelson Peltz and his targeted attacks on PepsiCo lead by Indra Nooyi and Mondelez International lead by CEO Irene Rosenfeld as well as his current demands on DuPont, with Ellen Kullman as chairman and CEO.

In the absence of correlating data about female CEO's and weaker company performance, the question lingers is there something besides performance that prompts the targeting of these companies?  To explain the question the article references several studies that report perception differences in competence, risk and performance based solely on gender, with, women on the losing end of these perception biases.

As I think is a common tendency, I gravitate towards information that relates to what I am personally thinking about, experiencing or interested in at the moment.  Earlier on this blog, I wrote about gender issues in the classroom.  On my current reading list, is the book What Works for Women at Work written by Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey, that (1) reviews the existing literature about pervasive gender bias, (2) articulates how unconscious bias influences outcomes (acknowledging that for the most part society has moved past explicit and overt gender discrimination), (3) identifies four patterns where these biases consistently emerge based in part on her interviews with 127 "successful" women, and (4) discusses how the workplace (meaning men and women) can move beyond the limitations of these implicit biases.  Several colleagues and friends are reading this book along with me as well.  And the best part:  not everyone reading the book is (and not everyone should be) a women.  

-Anne Tucker

February 11, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Regulatory State: Fracking Bans and Proper Exercise of Local Control

Business law is filled with a wide range of regulation and regulatory issues, and one of the main areas of business law for my research is energy law.  Regulation impacts energy businesses at many levels. Energy companies have to deal land use regulations, air and water quality regulations, work place regulations, and (often) securities regulations.  

On the land use and permitting side of things, oil and gas law has long been considered primarily a state issue, making such regulations relatively local (i.e., not federal).  In recent years, with the increased use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, many local governments have decided to restrict the process in their localities, splitting from state regulatory regimes that would allow the process. Interesting cases related to fracking bans from New York, Colorado, and Pennsylvania provide good examples of this process. 

Texas Professor David B. Spence’s article about local hydraulic fracturing bans: The Political Economy of Local Vetoes, 93 Texas L. Rev. 351 (2015), discusses the debate about whether local governments should be ale to overrule the state law on oil and gas operations.  Here's the abstract:

As the controversy over fracking continues to sweep the nation, many local communities have enacted ordinances banning the practice, creating conflicts between these ordinances and statewide regulation schemes. This has given rise to state–local preemption challenges within state courts. In this Article, Professor Spence analyzes these conflicts, focusing on the best way to distribute the costs and benefits of fracking and how courts have attempted to address these distributional concerns. He begins by describing the conflicts between state law and local ordinances and the court decisions that have resolved these preemption issues. He next discusses how future takings claims would affect the distribution of the costs and benefits of fracking.

I think Prof. Spence is right on a lot of the issues, though I have come to believe that, at least for most oil and gas issues, as long as state-level regulation is the primary regulation in the sector, whether localities have the ability to ban hydraulic fracturing in their jurisdictions is irrelevant.  That is, I see oil and gas as a state-level issue, and if state's have or wish to grant counties or municipalities local control, then great.  If the state chooses to maintain control, that's fine, too.  

My main concern is that legislators and regulators, and courts who review their decisions, seek sufficient information to balance the costs and benefits of oil and gas operations.  This is not an outcome driven analysis. That is, decision makers can, in my view, properly assess the costs and benefits of the hydraulic fracturing process and have different outcomes (such as one court upholding a ban and another striking a ban).  But one must gather information and assess the broader range of issues raised by oil and gas operations, which are not that different from many other industrial operations, as I have argued previously, here.

I'll close with a shameless plug for my response to Prof. Spence's article, which appears in Texas Law Review See Also, along with responses from two outstanding scholars: Alexandra Klass  (Fracking and the Public Trust Doctrine: A Response to Spence) and Hannah Wiseman  (Governing Fracking from the Ground Up).  I highly recommend these three pieces, and if you want more, you can check out mine.  

Here's my abstract for How Local is Local?: A Response to Professor David B. Spence's the Political Economy of Local Vetoes:

Abstract:      

Professor Fershee responds to Professor David B. Spence’s article about local hydraulic fracturing bans: The Political Economy of Local Vetoes, 93 Texas L. Rev. 351 (2015). Professor Spence notes that the shale oil and gas debate provides an example of “an age-old political problem that the law is called upon to solve: the conflict between an intensely held minority viewpoint and a less intense, contrary view held by the majority.” In resolving such conflicts, Spence suggests that courts should resolve such “conflicts in ways that encourage states and local governments to regulate in ways that weigh both the costs and the benefits of shale oil and gas production fairly and fully.” 

This Response suggests the Professor Spence’s test for local control is a sound, but adds another factor contributing to local control. As noted above, another way of considering local control over oil and gas operations is to view local control as state-level control. This Response proceeds under the premise that each state should decide whether it wishes to allow its municipalities to exercise oil and gas related vetoes. In analyzing whether local vetoes are efficient under Professor Spence’s test, this article analyzes recent decisions in New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. 

This Response concludes that as long as state-level regulation is the primary basis for oil and gas regulation, Professor Spence’s overarching rule that state and local governments pursue regulations seeking to balance the costs and the benefits of shale oil and gas production “fairly and fully” is a foundation for good regulation. In this sense, local (meaning state or smaller subdivisions) vetoes are critical, but how “local” the vetoes are is less important. The key, then, is ensuring that courts and regulators are actually balancing costs and benefits.

February 10, 2015 in Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The SEC's Inaction on No Action

Many corporate governance professionals have been scratching their heads lately. In November, a federal judge in Delaware ruled that Wal-Mart had wrongfully excluded a shareholder proposal by Trinity Wall Street Church regarding the sale of guns and other products. Specifically, the proposal requested amendment of one of the Board Committee Charters to:

27. Provid[e] oversight concerning the formulation and implementation of, and the public reporting of the formulation and implementation of, policies and standards that determine whether or not the Company [i.e., Wal-Mart] should sell a product that:

1) especially endangers public safety and wellbeing;

2) has the substantial potential to impair the reputation of the Company; and/or

3) would reasonably be considered by many offensive to the family and community values integral to the Company's promotion of its brand. 

Wal-Mart filed with the SEC under Rule 14a-8 indicating that it planned to exclude the proposal under the ordinary business operations exclusion. The SEC agreed that there was a basis for exclusion under 14a-8(i)(7), but the District Court thought otherwise because the proposal related to a “sufficiently significant social policy.” In mid-January Wal-Mart appealed to the Third Circuit arguing among other things that the district court should have deferred to the SEC’s precedents and guidance over the past forty years on these issues.

In an unrelated but relevant matter in December 2014, the SEC issued a no action letter to Whole Foods stating:

You represent that matters to be voted on at the upcoming stockholders' meeting include a proposal sponsored by Whole Foods Market to amend Whole Foods Market's bylaws to allow any shareholder owning 9% or more of Whole Foods Market's common stock for five years to nominate candidates for election to the board and require Whole Foods Market to list such nominees with the board's nominees in Whole Foods Market's proxy statement. You indicate that the proposal and the proposal sponsored by Whole Foods Market directly conflict. You also indicate that inclusion of both proposals would present alternative and conflicting decisions for the stockholders and would create the potential for inconsistent and ambiguous results. Accordingly, we will not recommend enforcement action to the Commission if Whole Foods Market omits the proposal from its proxy materials in reliance on rule 14a-8(i)(9).

In a startling turn of events, the SEC withdrew its no action letter on January 16, 2015 after a January 9th letter from the Council of Institutional Investors questioning the reasoning in the Whole Foods and similar no action letters. The withdrawal of the no action letter came on the same day as the release an official SEC statement declining “to express a view on the application of Rule 14a-8(i)(9) during the current proxy season” due to questions about the scope and application of the rule.

Yesterday, the Center for Capital Market Competitiveness (“CCMC”), an arm of the Chamber of Commerce, sent its own letter to Chair White lamenting the current state of affairs. An excerpt is below:

This announcement, a contradictory departure from a decision made just weeks earlier, benefits neither issuers nor investors and introduces an additional layer of uncertainty into an already complicated set of rules. The CCMC believes this reversal underscores why corporate governance policies must provide certainty for all stakeholders, not just to advance the goals of a small minority of special interest activists….[t]he January 16 announcement places many issuers in an untenable position, and presents them with a series of questions for which there may be no good answers. For those issuers wishing to present their own alternative proposal to shareholders for consideration, do they exclude a shareholder proposal in favor of their own and face the heightened risk of litigation with the proponent or the Commission? Do they risk shareholder confusion by including both their own proposal and a competing one from a proponent? Do they incur the added expense and distraction to management of seeking declaratory relief in federal district court? Are shareholders deprived of their right to include a proposal that is omitted because of the absence of SEC action? Far from encouraging private ordering, the recent announcement will only serve to stymie it.

The CCMC also recommends a review of the entire 14a-8 process because, as the letter claims,  “it is well-known that the shareholder proposal process has been dominated by a small group of special interest activists, including groups affiliated with organized labor, certain religious orders, social and public policy advocates, and a handful of serial activists. These special interests use the shareholder proposal process to pursue their own idiosyncratic agendas, often far removed from the mainstream, as evidenced by the overall low approval rates of many shareholder proposals that are put to a vote. Indeed, mainstream institutional investors account for only one percent of shareholder proposals at the Fortune 250.” 

Reasonable people may disagree on how the CCMC characterizes the motives behind the shareholder proposals, but there can be no disagreement that the current SEC silence doesn't serve any constituency. Steve Bainbridge also has an informative post on this topic. Proxy season is coming up and shareholders and companies alike are awaiting a decision from the Third Circuit in the Wal-Mart action that could dramatically alter the landscape for shareholder proposals, possibly flooding the courts with expensive, protracted litigation. The timing couldn’t be worse for the SEC’s lack of action on no action letters.

 

 

 

 

February 5, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Delaware, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Importance of Communication - Student-Initiated Intrastate "Crowdfunding" Legislation

On December 22 and again on January 9, I posted the first two installments of a three-part series featuring the wit and wisdom of my former student, Brandon Whiteley, who successfully organized a student group to draft, propose, and instigate passage of Invest Tennessee, a state crowdfunding bill in Tennessee.  The first post featured Brandon's observations on the legislative process, and the second post addressed key influences on the bill-that-became-law.  This post, as earlier promised, includes Brandon's description of the important role that communication played in the Invest Tennessee endeavor.  Here's what he related to me in that regard (as before, slightly edited for republication here).

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February 2, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, Law School, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Proposal to Fix the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule

I oppose the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule, which requires companies to conduct due diligence and report on their sourcing of certain minerals from the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries. As I have written before repeatedly on this blog, a law review article, and an amicus brief, it is a flawed “name and shame law” that assumes that consumers and investors will change their purchasing decisions based upon a corporate disclosure, which they may not read, understand, or care about. The name and shame portion of the law was struck down on First Amendment grounds, and the business lobby, the SEC, and the NGO community are eagerly awaiting a decision by the full DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

A disclosure law that does not take into account the true causes for the violence that has killed millions is not the most effective way to have a meaningful impact for the Congolese people. The Democratic Republic of Congo needs outside governments to provide more aid on security sector, criminal justice, education, and judicial reform at the very least. Indeed, the Congolese government is still trying to defeat the rebels that this law was meant to weaken (see here for example). I have strong feelings about the law as a former supply chain professional and an advisory board member of an NGO that operates in eastern DRC.

I am currently working on an article about the defects in disclosure laws that attempt to address human rights impacts, and the conflict minerals rule is one of them. In that context, I was excited to read a recent draft article entitled The Conflict Minerals Experiment by Professor Jeff Schwartz. Although I don't agree with his conclusion that the best way to fix the law is, among other things, to employ a disclose or explain approach and greater transparency (which I also discuss in my article), I do agree that reform and not necessarily repeal is in order. Schwartz’ article is particularly useful because he provides empirical evidence of the relative uselessness of the first round of corporate disclosures. I look forward to citing it in my upcoming piece. The abstract is below:

In Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank, Congress instructed the SEC to draft rules that would require public companies to report annually on whether their products contain certain Congolese minerals. This unprecedented legislation and the SEC rulemaking that followed have inspired an impassioned and ongoing debate between those who view these efforts as a costly blunder and those who view them as a measured response to human-rights abuses committed by the armed groups that control many mines in the Congo. 

This Article for the first time brings empirical evidence to bear on this controversy. I present data on the inaugural disclosures that companies submitted to the SEC. Based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of these submissions, I argue that Congress’s hope of supply-chain transparency goes unfulfilled, but amendments to the rules could yield useful information without increasing compliance costs. The SEC filings expose key loopholes in the regulatory structure and illustrate the importance of fledgling institutional initiatives that trace and verify corporate supply chains. This Article’s proposal would eliminate the loopholes and refocus the transparency mandate on disclosure of the supply-chain information that has come to exist thanks to these institutional efforts.

 

January 29, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Key Influences on Invest Tennessee - Student-Initiated Intrastate "Crowdfunding" Legislation

A few weeks ago, I described to you a really special extracurricular project undertaken by one of my students, Brandon Whiteley, now an alum, this past year.  The project?  Proposing and securing legislative passage of Invest Tennessee, a Tennessee state securities law exemption for intrastate offerings that incorporates key features of crowdfunding.  The legislation became effective on January 1.

In that first post, I described the project and Brandon's observations on the legislative process.  This post highlights his description of the influences on the bill that became law.  Here they are, with a few slight edits (and hyperlink inserts) from me.

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January 9, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, Law School, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BA/Corporations -- New Media Teaching Resources

I had very limited time at AALS this year (unfortunately) but I still walked away with some great ideas (and a chance to say hello to a few, but not enough, friendly faces).  I am borrowing from many ideas shared in the panel cited below, as well as a few of my own.  As many of you prepare to teach BA/Corporations for the spring (or making notes on how to do it next time), here are a few fun new resources to help illustrate common concepts:

  • HBO's The Newsroom.  A hostile takeover, negotiations with a white knight-- all sorts of corporate drama unfolded on HBO's Season 3 of The Newsroom.   I couldn't find clips on youtube, but episode recaps (like this) are available and provide a good reference point/story line/hypo/exam problem for class.
  • This American Life-- Wake Up Now Act 2 (Dec. 26, 2014).  This brief radio segment/podcast tells the story of two investors trying to reduce the pay of a company CEO.  The segment discusses board of director elections, board duties, board functions and set up some large questions about whether or not shareholders are the owners of the corporation and their profit maximization is the ultimate goal for a company.  This could be followed with Lynn Stout's 2012 NYT Dealbook article proposing the opposite view.
  • HBO's Silicon Valley.  For all things tech, start up, entrepreneurship and basic corporate formation, clips (you will want to find something without all of the swears, I suspect) and episode recaps from this popular show illustrate concepts and connect with students.  Again, great for discussion, hypos, and exam fact patterns.
  • The Shark Tank!.  I have to thank Christyne Vachon at UD for this idea.  There are tons of clips on youtube and most offer the opportunity to talk about investors bringing different things to the table, how to apportion control, etc.  Here is an episode involving patent issues. I think that I am going to open my experiential Unincorporated/Drafting class with a Shark Tank clip on Monday.  
  • Start Up Podcasts.  These 30-minute episodes cover a wide range of topics. Here is one podcast on how to value a small business.   At a minimum, I will post some of these to my course website this spring.  (Thank you Andrew Haile at Elon for this recommendation.).
  • Planet Money.  The podcasts are a great resource, but what I love is the Planet Money Twitter page because it is a great way to digest daily news, current events and topical developments that may be incorporated into your class.
  • Wall Street Journal--TWEETS.  (that felt like an oxymoron to write). Aside from the obvious, I find the Twitter feed to be the most useful way to use/monitor the WSJ.  I will admit it, I don't "read" it every day, but this is my proxy.

Special thanks to the participants in the Agency, Partnership & the Law's panel on Bringing Numbers into Basic and Advanced Business Associations Courses: How and Why to Teach Accounting, Finance, and Tax

Moderator: Jeffrey M. Lipshaw, Suffolk University Law School
Speakers:
Lawrence A. Cunningham, The George Washington University Law School
Andrew J. Haile, Elon University School of Law
Usha R. Rodrigues, University of Georgia School of Law
Christyne Vachon, University of North Dakota School of Law
Eric C. Chaffee, University of Toledo College of Law
Franklin A. Gevurtz, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

And Happy New Year BLPB Readers!

-AT

January 7, 2015 in Business Associations, Anne Tucker, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, LLCs, M&A, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

New York’s Fracking Failure

Environmental groups and other opponents of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) for oil and natural gas have roundly applauded Governor Cuomo’s decision to ban the process in the state of New York. The ban, which confirms New York’s more than five-year moratorium on the process, has been lauded as an environmental success and a model for other states.   The ban is neither. 

Oil and natural gas prices are at their lowest prices in years. Interest in expanding drilling in the Marcellus Shale, which is the geologic formation holding natural gas deposits under New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, is correspondingly low.  That makes the fracking ban an easy decision because there is relatively limited interest in drilling in state.

There are those with interest in drilling in New York, of course, but as long as prices are low and there are other places to drill (like Pennsylvania and West Virginia), that interest will remain modest.  The ban also raises the value of Pennsylvania and West Virginia mineral rights by reducing competition, so companies with interests in the entire region have little reason to weigh in forcefully.

In this environment, then, an outright ban was easier to put in place than real and stringent regulations to help ensure the fracking process is done with minimal risk and maximum gain. An outright ban is the easy road because it minimizes the potential fight. Companies engaging in hydraulic fracturing around the country would object to new regulations in New York, even if they don’t have interest in drilling in the state because they are afraid the states where they drill would follow New York’s lead.  But no one will fight about a ban in a state where they don’t want to drill. 

When natural gas prices rebound – and they will rebound – money will flow into the state to overturn the ban and allow access to the natural gas.  The economic pressure will be enormous and when the financial potential reaches the point that large and diverse groups in the state see the possibility of significant gain, it’s highly likely the ban will be reversed through legislative or other political action.  At that point, the debate will not be about the quality of regulations or enforcement – it will be about whether the state will allow fracking or not. 

Done properly, the risks of hydraulic fracturing are comparable to traditional oil and gas exploration and to other common extractive and industrial processes.  The better course of action now would have been to put in place stringent safeguards that would made New York the leader in environmental protection in hydraulic fracturing. Such rules could have banned the process in areas that could put New York City’s water supply at risk, and allowed in the southwestern part of the state, as was proposed in 2012 for Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties.  The rules could have required significant recycling and cradle-to-grave tracking of waste water created by the process, added the highest level well casing standards, and enacted stringent air and water quality standards.

Such a set of rules would be expensive for those seeking to drill in the state and would have served as a model for other states (and nations around the world) in how best to regulate hydraulic fracturing.  The rules would be expensive enough for exploration companies that few, if any, would start drilling in the state.  But when prices reach the level where the cost of compliance becomes economic, the state would have been ready with strong and enforceable rules.

Creating stringent rules would also have forced companies to seek to rollback specific environmental protections, which would mean discussing and explaining specific risks.   Instead, the governor has taken the easy path, and in doing so he pushed the real debate down the road.  Rather than talking about the risks inherent in this and any industrial process, and seeking to address those risks, the ban reduces the discourse to a simple “yes” or “no.” A “no” answer is easy when prices are low, but “yes” is likely to follow when prices are high. 

The governor had a chance to be a leader on this issue, and instead chose to score easy political points.  That’s his and his administration’s prerogative, but time will show that the outright ban was a mistake because it was a missed opportunity in New York and beyond. 

December 23, 2014 in Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Invest Tennessee - Student-Initiated Intrastate "Crowdfunding" Legislation

Effective as of January 1. 2015, Tennessee will allow Tennessee corporations to engage in intrastate offerings of securities to Tennessee residents over the internet without registration.  The new law, adopted earlier this year, is the direct result of a law-student-led movement.  The key student leader was one of my students, and he kept me informed about the effort as it moved along.  (I was called upon for advice and commentary from time to time, but the bill is all their work.)

In my experience, this kind of effort--a student-initiated, non-credit, extracurricular engagement in business law reform--is almost unheard of.  I was intrigued by the enterprise and impressed by its success.  As a result, I asked the student leader, Brandon Whiteley, now an alumnus, to send me some of his perceptions about drafting and proposing the bill and getting it passed.  

This is the first in a series of three posts that feature Brandon's observations on the legislative process, the key influences on the bill, and the importance of communication.  This post highlights his commentary on the legislative process (which I have edited minimally with his consent).  I think you'll agree that his wisdom and humor both shine through in this first installment (as well as the others).  His organizational capabilities also are evident throughout.

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December 22, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, Law School, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)