Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Note to Trump and the New Congress: Play Conservative and Leave It Alone

When it comes to regulations and economic policy, I am quite conservative.  Not a Republican-type conservative (probably more Libertarian in a political sense), but in the sense that I often advocate for less regulation, and even more often, for less changes to laws and regulations. People need to be able to count on a system and work within it. As such, whether it is related to securities law, energy and environmental law, or other areas of the law, I find myself advocating for staying the course rather than adding new laws and regulations.  

For example, a while back, co-blogger Joan Heminway quoted one of my comments about securities law, where I noted "my ever-growing sense that maybe we should just take a break from tweaking securities laws and focus on enforcing rules and sniffing out fraud. A constantly changing securities regime is increasingly costly, complex, and potentially counterproductive." 

After the BP oil blowout of the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico, I similarly argued that we should approach new laws with caution, and that we might be better served with existing law, rather than seeking new laws and regulation in a hasty manner. I explained, 

[T]here are times when new laws and regulations are necessary to handle new ways of perpetrating a fraud or to address new information about what was previously viewed as acceptable conduct. But often, new laws and regulations are not a reaction to new information or technology; they are a reaction to a unique and unfortunate set of facts that is more likely related to timing or circumstances than an emerging trend. Other times, it is a lack of enforcement of existing protections meaning the problem is not the law itself; it is the enforcement of the law that is the problem.

Choosing a Better Path: The Misguided Appeal of Increased Criminal Liability After Deepwater Horizon, 36 Wm. & Mary Envt'l L & Pol. Rev. 1, 19 (2011) (footnotes omitted). More recently, I have taken the same view with regard to hydraulic fracturing regulations:

There may well be a need for new regulations to improve oversight of hydraulic fracturing and other industries that pose environmental risks, but new regulations do not necessary lead to better oversight. . . . There is a strong argument that the problems related to hydraulic fracturing (and, for that matter, coal extraction, chemical storage, and hazardous waste operations) are more linked to a lack of enforcement and not a lack of regulation.

Facts, Fiction, and Perception in Hydraulic Fracturing: Illuminating Act 13 and Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 116 W. Va. L. Rev. 819, 847 (2014). 

I swear I have a point, beyond just quoting myself.  Here it is: I'd like to urge the President-Elect and the 115th Congress to sit back and stay the course for a little bit to see where things are headed. I have a strong suspicion things are headed in the right direction from an economic perspective. This is not to suggest that there are not holes in the economy or people in desperate need of jobs, training, and education (there are -- I live in West Virginia. I know.). But with a White House and a Congress controlled by the same party, the GOP play should be simply: we're in charge now, and the economy is ready to move ahead.  

We have already seen it -- the stock market is up and economic indicators look better.  And there has been no new legislation or regulation (or repeals of either).  It's just consumers believing the economy will get better.  And consumer confidence is key to expansion.  Who cares that it started before the election?  What matters is whether we're going in the right direction.  And it seems we are. The Financial Times reported today

A gauge of US consumer sentiment has hit a post-recession high, painting a positive outlook ahead of the key holiday shopping season as recent data point to a strengthening US economy.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index climbed to 107.1 in November from 100.8 in October, the highest since July 2007 and above analysts’ forecast of 101.5.

Most of the survey was conducted before the presidential election on November 8. But “it appears from the small sample of post-election responses that consumers’ optimism was not impacted by the outcome,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board. “With the holiday season upon us, a more confident consumer should be welcome news for retailers.”

 

And, just to reinforce that is not a post-election position, I have been making this argument on this blog since at least 2010, when I wrote, How to Fix the "Broken" Financial System: Stop Trying to Fix It

So, let's stay the course for a bit and see how people respond to a little stability. Let's see what a surge in consumer confidence can do for the U.S. and world economies. Let's make sure it's broken (and if so, how), before anyone tries to fix it. And maybe, in the meantime, we can spend a little time treating each other better.

November 29, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Current Affairs, Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Legislation, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Congressional Punt on Chevron Deference

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) has already started soliciting support as he seeks to chair the House Energy & Commerce Committee. He says in his letter: 

[W]e will use our oversight and investigative authority to rebalance the federal government, recommending changes so future administrations won’t have the same ability to abuse their power.  In particular, this will entail building the case against the Chevron Deference, which has enabled executive agencies to upend congressional intent through the courts.

Our success in this area will restore Congress as the sole lawmaking apparatus of the federal government.

This is rather funny to me.  First of all, Chevron was a case during the Reagan Administration in which the Administration decided to take a view of the Clean Air Act with which the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. disagreed. The court sided with the Administration.  The power of deference has value to who ever is in charge of the executive branch.  

More important, though, Congress has always been the sole lawmaking apparatus of the federal government. Congress can eliminate Chevron deference by statute. Congress can repeal Massachusetts v. EPA by statute.  Congress has the power.  They are just unwilling or unable to wield it.  This is true as to the EPA and SEC and FCC and any other agency.  So, sure, one can blame the role of the courts and the executive if they don't like how agencies operate.  But I'd suggest that, for members of Congress who don't like that, the first place they should look is in the mirror.  

November 15, 2016 in Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Eleven Corporate Governance and Compliance Questions for President-Elect Trump

I have been on hiatus for a few weeks, and had planned to post today about the compliance and corporate governance issues related to Wells Fargo. However, I have decided to delay posting on that topic in light of the unexpected election results and how it affects my research and work.

I am serving as a panelist and a moderator at the ABA's annual Labor and Employment meeting tomorrow. Our topic is Advising Clients in Whistleblower Investigations. In our discussions and emails prior to the conference, we never raised the election in part because, based on the polls, no one expected Donald Trump to win. Now, of course, we have to address this unexpected development in light of the President-elect's public statements that he plans to dismantle much of President Obama's legacy, including a number of his executive orders.

President-elect Trump's plan for his first 100 days includes, among other things: a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce though attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health); a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated; renegotiation or withdrawal from NAFTA; withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; canceling "every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama; and a number of rules related to lobbyists and special interests.

Plaintiffs' lawyers I have spoken to at this conference so far are pessimistic that standards will become even more pro-business and thus more difficult to bring cases. That's probably true. However,  I have the following broader business-law related questions:

  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 minumum, may not be out of the question.
    2. 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?
    4. How will the vow to freeze the federal workforce affect OSHA, which enforces Sarbanes-Oxley?
    5. 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.
    6. How will a more conservative Supreme Court deal with the business cases that will appear before it?
    7. 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?
    8. What will happen with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which the DC Circuit recently ruled was unconstitutional in terms of its structure and power?
    9. 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?
    10. What happens to the Public Company Accounting Board, which has had an interim director for several months?
    11. 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?

Of course, there are many more questions and I have no answers but I will be interested to see how future announcements affect the world financial markets, which as of the time of this writing appear to have calmed down.

November 10, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ripped from the Headlines: GE & Baker Hughes Proposed Merger

General Electric (GE)  and Baker Hughes (BHI) announced on Monday, October 31st, a proposed merger to combine their oil and gas operations.  GE and Baker Hughes will form a partnership, which will own a publicly-traded company.   GE shareholders will own 62.5% of the "new" partnership, while Baker Hughes shareholders will own 37.5% and receive a one-time cash dividend of $17.50 per share.  The new company will have 9 board of director seats:  5 from GE and 4 from Baker Hughes.  GE CEO Jeff Immelt will be the chairman of the new company and Lorenzo Simonelli,  CEO of GE Oil & Gas, will be CEO. Baker Hughes CEO Martin Craighead will be vice chairman.

Reuters is describing the business synergies between the two companies as leveraging GE's oilfield equipment manufacturing ("supplying blowout preventers, pumps and compressors used in exploration and production") and data process services with Baker Hughes' expertise in " horizontal drilling, chemicals used to frack and other services key to oil production."

Baker Hughes had previously proposed a merger with Halliburton (HAL), which failed in May, 2016, after the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit to block the merger. Early analysis suggests that the proposed GE & Baker Hughes will pass regulatory scrutiny because of the limited business overlap of GE and Baker Hughes.

As I plan to tell my corporations students later today: this is real life!  A high-profile, late-semester merger of two public companies is a wonderful gift.  The proposed GE/Baker Hughes merger illustrates, in real life, concepts we have been discussing (or will be soon) like partnerships, the proxy process, special shareholder meetings, SEC filings, abstain or disclose rules, and, of course, mergers.

 

Continue reading

November 2, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Law School, M&A, Partnership, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 3, 2016

SLR Online - Salman v. United States: Changing the Course of Insider Trading Law?

The Stanford Law Review Online has just released a series of essays on Salman v. United States, scheduled for oral argument on Wednesday.  I plan to blog more about the Salman case as/if I can find time this week, but I wanted you to have this link right away--first thing this morning.  The essays are a veritable insider trading feast and are written by some of the most thoughtful scholars in the area: Jill Fisch, Don Langevoort, Jonathan Macey, Donna Nagy, and Adam Pritchard.  There's something in at least one of the essays for almost everyone out there.

October 3, 2016 in Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 26, 2016

More On Salman As The Date For Supreme Court Oral Argument Approaches . . . .

In recent weeks, co-bloggers Ann Lipton and Anne Tucker both have posted on issues relating to the upcoming Supreme Court oral argument in Salman v. U.S.  Indeed, this is an important case for the reason they each cite: resolution of the debate about whether the receipt of a personal benefit should be a condition to tippee liability for insider trading (under Section 10(b) of/Rule 10b-5 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended), when the tipper and tippee are close family members.  Certainly, many of us who teach and litigate insider trading cases will be watching the oral argument and waiting for the Court's opinion to see whether, and if so, how, the law evolves.

Having noted that common interest (as among many) in the Salman case, as I earlier indicated, I have a broader interest in the Salman case because of a current project I am working on relating to family relationships and friendships in insider trading--both as a matter of tipper-tippee liability (as in Salman) and as a matter of the duty of trust and confidence necessary to misappropriation liability.  The project was borne in part of a feeling that I had, based on reported investigations and cases I continued to encounter, that expert network and friends-and-family insider trading cases were two very common insider trading scenarios that implicate uncertain insider trading doctrine under U.S. law.

While I have been distracted by other things, my research assistant has begun to gather and reflect on the data we are assembling about publicly reported friends and family insider trading acting between 2000 and today.  Here are some preliminary outtakes that may be of interest based on the first 40 cases we have identified.

  • 16 of the cases involve friendships;
  • 7 cases involve marital relationships;
  • 7 cases involve romantic relationships outside marriage (e.g., lover, mistress, boyfriend); 
  • 5 cases involving siblings;
  • 3 cases involve a parent/child relationship; and
  • 3 cases on involve in-laws.

Those categories capture the vast majority of cases we have identified so far.  The cases represented in the list are primarily from 2011-2016.  Some cases involve more than one type of relationship.   So, the number of observations in the list above exceeds 40.

Another key observation is that most initial tippers in these cases are men.  Notable exceptions are SEC v. Hawk and SEC v. Chen, described in this 2014 internet case summary. Six cases found and analyzed to date involve female tippees.

Theories in the cases derive from both classical and misappropriation scenarios.  I will say more on that in a subsequent post.  For now, however, perhaps the most important take-away is that my intuition that there are many cases involving exchanges of material nonpublic information in family relationships and friendships appears to be solid.  Hopefully, the Court will help resolve unanswered questions about insider trading doctrine as applied in these cases, starting with the personal benefit question raised in Salman.

September 26, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Anne Tucker, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Diversity & Herstory in the Boardroom

Fresh from the presidential debate,** I find myself writing about board room diversity.*** Over the 2016 summer, SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White signaled intent to revisit diversity in U.S. boardrooms.  In 2009 the SEC adopted a diversity disclosure rule requiring companies to disclose how their nominating committees considered diversity and whether the company had a diversity policy. The full rule can be viewed here.  The SEC did not define (nor did it mandate a singular definition of ) diversity, and companies have been left to define diversity individually, often without regard to gender, ethnic, racial or religious identities.  The result, criticized by Chairwoman White,  has been vague disclosures without apparent impact. 

SEC diversity rule making (past and future) was the backdrop for a recent corporate governance seminar class where I asked students:  Why should they care about board room diversity? And if the 2009 disclosure rule changes, how should it change? How do other countries approach the issue of boardroom diversity?  Can it be a mandated or legislated endeavor?  To guide our discussion we read  Aaron A Dhir's brilliant and thorough: Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity: Corporate Law, Governance and Diversity and consulted Catalyst.org to understand the panoply of diversity choices from other jurisdictions.  

Dhir's Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity was a helpful and powerful book, equipping students with facts and language to think about and discuss diversity.  Dhir engaged in a qualitative, interview-based methodology to investigate, and ultimately compare the Norwegian quota system with the U.S. diversity disclosure experience.  While noting the costs and the translation problems from Norway to the world writ-large, Dhir interpreted his results as follows: 

"female directors, present in substantial numbers, may enhance the level of cognitive diversity and constructive conflict in the boardroom.  They are more apt to critically analyze, test and challenge received wisdom.  In doing so, they appear to have harnessed for their boards the value of dissent, a key driver of effective governance."

In focusing on the U.S. experience, however, Dhir found that U.S. firms defined diversity in terms of experience not identity, and that this initiative fell short of the goal of encouraging or promoting boardroom diversity.  Dhir recommended that the SEC  define diversity as containing socio-demographic  components and encourage companies to incorporate such considerations in governance by imposing a comply or explain regime in the U.S.  While some have lamented that the SEC's primary challenge is how to define what diversity means, Dhir, through his research and analysis has a pretty good staring point.  Should someone send Chairwoman White a copy of this book? 

More than even the careful methodology, the refreshing comparative perspective and thoughtful recommendations tied to data and observable trends, the book provides a common language to explain the phenomenon of why diversity, as an initiative, is even necessary in the first place. Chapter two engages with a nuanced set of issues, irrefutable fact and explanations of bias--implicit and explicit.  Here I think, more so than even other parts of the book, students connected with the materials linking language to real experiences and observations in their own lives. The attack on the pool problem critique (there aren't enough qualified women and it variant:  we hired the most qualified candidate from our pool) alone warrants my effusive praise for its persuasive presentation and ability to generate thoughtful student debate.

-Anne Tucker

**The debate wasn't the impetus, rather writing this post is just an exercise in settling my nerves before trying to sleep.  

***I have previously written about gender-diversity issues (classroom and boardroom) on the blog here and here.  

September 26, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, International Business, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Friend or Foe to Insider Trading Law? Salman v US

The enticing facts of insider trading have me writing about the topic again (see an earlier post here) as the US Supreme Court prepares to hear oral argument in Salman v. US on October 5th.  In Salman, the Supreme Court is asked to draw some careful lines in the questions: what benefit counts and how to prove such a benefit under Dirks v. SEC.  

Recall that in Dirks, the Supreme Court focused the test on whether an insider benefitted—either by trading or by tipping in exchange for a benefit from the person to whom she tipped material nonpublic information. After Dirks, the 10b inquiry is whether the insider breached a duty by conveying the information for the insider’s personal benefit, and whether the tippee knows or at least should know of the breach. The Court explained that even in a case against a tippee who trades "Absent some personal gain [by the insider], there has been no breach of duty to stockholders. And absent a breach by the insider, there is no derivative breach [by the tippee]."

The Salman case highlights a circuit split:  the Second Circuit case United States v. Newman and the Ninth Circuit's ruling in Salman.  In Salman, the question is whether prosecutors had to prove that the brother-in-law, Maher Kara, disclosed nonpublic securities information in exchange for a personal benefit. Is it enough that the insider and the tippee shared a close family relationship or must there be direct evidence as required in Newman?  

The Ninth Circuit framed the benefit requirement inquiry, established in Dirks, as a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or a friend. The prosecution offered direct evidence of nonpublic information as a gift. The Ninth Circuit, and the Government, relied upon this passage in Dirks:

There may be a relationship between the insider and the recipient that suggests a quid pro quo from the latter, or an intention to benefit the particular recipient. The elements of fiduciary duty and exploitation of nonpublic information also exist when an insider makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend. The tip and trade resemble trading by the insider himself followed by a gift of the profits to the recipient.

The Second Circuit read the Dirks benefit test more narrowly, saying it required “proof of a meaningfully close personal relationship that generates an exchange that is objective, consequential and represents at least a potential gain of a pecuniary or similarly valuable nature.”

So what is the right answer?  The Government lamented the Newman decision as "dramatically limit[ing] the Government’s ability to prosecute some of the most common, culpable, and market-threatening forms of insider trading.” Whereas others (see here) have criticized the Government's position in Newman and the subsequent basis of the Salman ruling as reviving the “parity of information” standard rejected by Supreme Court in both Chiarella and Dirks.  Focusing on friendship and defining it broadly weakens the benefit test advanced in Dirks.

As someone who teaches insider trading and has followed the fascinating case facts for years, I am looking forward to oral argument and see the next step in the evolution of insider trading.  Co-blogger Ann Lipton tee'd up the Salman case in her post earlier this week with her usual whit and charm.

-Anne Tucker 

 

 

September 21, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Anne Tucker, Constitutional Law, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Is the Era of Conflict Minerals Disclosure Coming to an End?

Earlier this week the House Financial Services Committee voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule, which I last wrote about here and in a law review article criticizing this kind of disclosure regime in general.

Under the proposed Financial Choice Act (with the catchy tagline of "Growth for All, Bailouts for None"), a number of Dodd-Frank provisions would go by the wayside, including conflict minerals because:

Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Act imposes a number of overly burdensome disclosure requirements related to conflict minerals, extractive industries, and mine safety that bear no rational relationship to the SEC’s statutory mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and promote capital formation. The Financial CHOICE Act repeals those requirements. There is overwhelming evidence that Dodd-Frank’s conflict minerals disclosure requirement has done far more harm than good to its intended beneficiaries – the citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Central African countries. SEC Chair Mary Jo White, an Obama appointee, has conceded the Commission is not the appropriate agency to carry out humanitarian policy. The provisions of Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Act are a prime example of the increasing use of the federal securities laws as a cudgel to force public companies to disclose extraneous political, social, and environmental matters in their periodic filings.

The House report cites a number of scholars and others who raise some of the same issues that I addressed in an amicus brief when the case was litigated at the trial and appellate level years ago.

This weekend I am attending the Business and Human Rights Scholars Conference co-sponsored by the University of Washington School of Law, the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the Rutgers Business School, the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance, and the Business and Human Rights Journal. I present on Cuba, human rights, and investor-state dispute resolution, but a number of papers concern conflict minerals and disclosure in general.

As I have argued in the past, I’m not sure that repeal is the answer. I do believe that the law should be re-examined and possibly reformed to ensure that the diligence and disclosure actually leads to tangible and sustained benefits for the Congolese people. In short, I want to see some evidence of linkages between this corporate governance disclosure and reductions in rape, violence, child slavery, pillaging of villages, and forced labor. I want to see proof that the individual ethical consumers who claim in surveys to care about human rights have actually changed their buying habits because of this name and shame campaign.

Although I do not agree with many of the proposals in the House report and I am not against all disclosure, I do not believe that the SEC is the appropriate agency to address these issues. The State Department and others can and should take the lead on the very serious security and justice reform issues that I witnessed firsthand in Goma and Bukavu  when I went to the DRC to research this law five years ago. These issues and the violence perpetrated by rebel groups, police, and the military persist.  I look forward to hearing how and if proponents of the conflict minerals rule address this report during the conference.

September 16, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Glass Lewis on Corporate Governance

I previously wrote on the Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance released by high profile investors and corporate titans such as Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffet. Others, such as Steve Bainbridge have also weighed in. Now proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis has spoken, stating in part:

While the Principles may disappoint investors expecting a more comprehensive and robust approach similar to that found in the UK and other countries, there are a few areas where the principles promote forward-thinking stances. For example, the Principles criticize dual class voting structures and state that companies should consider specific sunset provisions based upon time or a triggering event to eventually eliminate dual class structures. This is notwithstanding the dual class structure at signatory Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathaway…

There are several areas the Principles do not address, including key anti-takeover defenses such as poison pills, supermajority vote requirements and classified boards. The Principles generally address some issues such as special meeting rights and term/age limits for directors but do not recommend specific thresholds or tenure limits…

Despite the Principles’ relatively narrow scope and high level, we believe they contain enough substance to spark a dialogue inside boardrooms, which could lead to increased shareholder engagement from boards that traditionally have relied on executives and investor relations departments to lead those efforts. In our view, direct engagement between investors and boards leads to greater transparency and fosters mutual understanding of the company and its strategy, promoting long-term value creation. As a result, the Principles could have a salutary effect on companies, shareholders and the market.

Given the concern expressed by some in the business community and Congress about the "undue influence" of proxy advisory firms, the Glass Lewis statement is worth a read.

September 2, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Volcker Rule Data Collection Under Congressional Scrutiny

House Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, sent a formal request to a slew of federal agencies to share trading data collected in connection with the Volcker Rule. The Volcker Rule prohibits U.S. banks from engaging in proprietary trading (effective July 21, 2015), while permitting legitimate market-making and hedging activities.  The Volcker Rule restricts commercial banks (and affiliates) from investing investing in certain hedge funds and private equity, and imposes enhanced prudential requirements on systemically identified non-bank institutions engaged in such activities.

Representative Maloney requested  the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to analyze seven quantitative trading metrics that regulators have been collecting since 2014 including: (1) risk and position limits and usage; (2) risk factor sensitivities; (3) value-at-risk (VaR) and stress VaR; (4) comprehensive profit and loss attribution; (5) inventory turnover; (6) inventory aging; and (7) customer facing trade ratios.

Representative Maloney requested the agencies analyze the data and respond to the following questions:

  • The extent to which the data showed significant changes in banks’ trading activities leading up to the July 21, 2015 effective date for the prohibition on proprietary trading. To the extent that the data did not show a significant change in the banks’ trading activities leading up to the July 21, 2015 effective date, whether the agencies believe this is attributable to the banks having ceased their proprietary trading activities prior to the start of the metrics reporting in July 2014.
  • Whether there are any meaningful differences in either overall risk levels or risk tolerances — as indicated by risk and position limits and usage, VaR and stress VaR, and risk factor sensitivities — for trading activities at different banks.
  • Whether the risk levels or risk tolerances of similar trading desks are comparable across banks reporting quantitative metrics. Similarly, whether the data show any particular types of trading desks (e.g., high-yield corporate bonds, asset-backed securities) that have exhibited unusually high levels of risk.
  • How examiners at the agencies have used the quantitative metrics to date.
  • How often the agencies review the quantitative metrics to determine compliance with the Volcker Rule, and what form the agencies’ reviews of the quantitative metrics take.
  • Whether the quantitative metrics have triggered further reviews by any of the agencies of a bank’s trading activities, and if so, the outcome of those reviews
  • Any changes to the quantitative metrics that the agencies have made, or are considering making, as a result of the agencies’ review of the data received as of September 30, 2015.

The agencies' response to the request may provide insight into Dodd-Frank/Volcker Rule, the role of big data in the rule-making process (and re-evaluation), and bigger issues such as whether systemic financial risk is definable by regulation and quantifiable in data collection.  I will post regulatory responses, requested by October 30th, here on the BLPB.

-Anne Tucker

August 31, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Investment Banking, Legislation, Private Equity, Securities Regulation, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Bit More Title III Crowdfunding Data . . . .

We are now more than three months into the Title III crowdfunding experiment.  I have been wanting to get back to posting on Title III crowdfunding since my "LIVE" post back in May, but so much other fun stuff has been going on!  So, to make me feel a bit better on that point, I will share some current crowdfunding data with you all in this post based on publicly available information obtained from a Westlaw search performed yesterday (Sunday, August 21, 2016).  [Note to the powers that be at the SEC:  EDGAR makes it hard to find the aggregated set of Form C filings unless you are collecting data on an ongoing basis.  I hope that changes as EDGAR continues to improve . . . .]  

At the outset, I will note that others have offered their own reports on Title III crowdfunding since I last posted (including here, here, and here).  These reports offer some nice summaries.  This post offers a less comprehensive data dump focusing in on completed offerings and withdrawn offerings.  At the end, I offer some limited observations from the information provided here about crowdfunding as a small-business capital-raising alternative, the need for EDGAR adjustments, inferences about the success of Title III crowdfunded offerings, and platform disclosure about withdrawn offerings.

First, however, the top-level Westlaw-based summary:

Total Form C filings: 85 (275 filings show on Westlaw, but only 85 are non-exhibit filings representing distinct offerings)
Total Form C/A filings (amendments, including exhibit filings): 153
Total Form C-U filings (updates): 4
Total Form C-W filings (withdrawals): 2

The remainder of this post takes a shallow dive into the updates and withdrawals.  Filings in each case are presented in reverse chronological order by filing date.  All referenced dates are in 2016.  Issuer names are copied from filings and may not be the actual legal names of the entities.

Continue reading

August 22, 2016 in Corporate Finance, Crowdfunding, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Look at Investor Risk and Community Risk In Private Prisons

The concept of private prisons has always seemed off to me.  Prisons have a role in society, but the idea of running such institutions for profit, it seems to me, aligns incentives in an improper way. The U.S. Justice Department apparently agrees and said yesterday that it plans to end the use of private prisons.  The announcement sent stocks tumbling for two private prison companies, Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and GEO.  Both dropped as much as 40% and remain down more than 30% from where they were before the announcement.   

Obviously, this can't make shareholders happy, but I figured this had to be a known risk. I was right -- CCA's 10-K makes clear that such government decisions related to future contracts could lead to a reduction in their profitability.  So, the disclosure seems proper from a securities regulation perspective. Still, reading the disclosure raises some serious questions for me about the proper role of government.  I frankly find this kind of outsourcing chilling.  For example, CCA states: 

Our results of operations are dependent on revenues generated by our jails, prisons, and detention facilities, which are subject to the following risks associated with the corrections and detention industry.

We are subject to fluctuations in occupancy levels, and a decrease in occupancy levels could cause a decrease in revenues and profitability.  . . . We are dependent upon the governmental agencies with which we have contracts to provide inmates for our managed facilities.

. . . .

We are dependent on government appropriations and our results of operations may be negatively affected by governmental budgetary challenges. . . . [and] our customers could reduce inmate population levels in facilities we own or manage to contain their correctional costs. . . .

The idea of "customers" in this contest simply does not sit well with me.  It suggests a desire for something that is not a positive. CCA's 10-K continues: 

Competition for inmates may adversely affect the profitability of our business. We compete with government entities and other private operators on the basis of bed availability, cost, quality, and range of services offered, experience in managing facilities and reputation of management and personnel. While there are barriers to entering the market for the ownership and management of correctional and detention facilities, these barriers may not be sufficient to limit additional competition. In addition, our government customers may assume the management of a facility that they own and we currently manage for them upon the termination of the corresponding management contract or, if such customers have capacity at their facilities, may take inmates currently housed in our facilities and transfer them to government-run facilities. . . .

Competition is a good thing in many (I think most), but this is not one of them. These companies are responding to the existing demand for prison services, but there can be no question the real opportunity for market growth is to increase demand for such services (e.g., increase the number of prisoners, seek longer sentences).  This, too, is made clear in the disclosures:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. This possible growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions, governmental budgetary constraints, and governmental and public acceptance of privatization. The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Immigration reform laws are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state, and local level. Legislation has also been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. 

CCA does note that their "policy prohibits [them] from engaging in lobbying or advocacy efforts that would influence enforcement efforts, parole standards, criminal laws, and sentencing policies." These disclosures, though, sure make clear what kind of policies their shareholders would want to support.  

I don't have any illusion that government run prisons are much (if any) better, but I do think that government's incentives are at least supposed to be aligned with the public good when it comes to the prison system.  I often think government should take a more limited role than it does when it comes to regulations.  That is especially true when it comes to criminal law. But privatizing prisons is not reducing the role of government in our lives -- it is simply outsourcing one key portion of the government's role.  Private prisons do not equate to smaller government. Fewer laws, or relaxed enforcement and punishment, do. If the government is paying for it, it's still a government program.  

Here's hoping that the reduction in use of private prisons leads to a reduction in the use of all prisons.  Let's save those for truly the dangerous folks.  

August 19, 2016 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Value of Scholarship "Extras"

I was recently invited to write a short piece on crowdfunding and investor protection for a special issue of one of the publications of the CESifo Group Munich, the CESifo DICE Report--"a quarterly, English-language journal featuring articles on institutional regulations and economic policy measures that offer country comparative analyses."  The group of authors for this publication (present company excluded) was truly impressive, and I have enjoyed reading their submissions.  My contribution is published here on the CESifo website and here on SSRN, for those who care to look it over.  

I did not hesitate to accept the CESifo Group's invitation to publish this paper, even though it is not primary scholarship and the deadline was tight for me given other professional obligations.  (The editors did allow me to negotiate a bit on the timing, however.)  The purpose of my post today is to explain why I decided to take this opportunity.  With the limited time that we all have to produce research papers, why would I invest in this kind of an "extra" publication--one that is not likely to get me full scholarly credit (whatever that may mean) in a critical assessment of my body of work?  Here are four reasons why I value this kind of project (if I can fit it in with my primary professional obligations).

  1. A publication with an interdisciplinary international research group puts a scholar's name and pre-existing scholarship (some of which typically is cited in the piece) in front of a new audience.
  2. A short, summary research paper of this kind offers the opportunity to synthesize or re-synthesize ideas from prior research and writing--a skill that (in my experience) improves with practice and is useful in other writing as well as in teaching.
  3. The reductive, focused writing process may reveal fresh insights, and these may lead to new research, writing, or teaching.
  4. Leveraging prior research by using it for multiple, distinct projects is efficient--and smart.

You may or may not agree with these reasons.  You may have other reasons for publishing this kind of work--or reasons for not doing so.  I invite you to add them in the comments.  And if you are untenured, not yet fully promoted, or otherwise subject to adverse employment action relating to scholarship activity, you'll likely want to check with your dean and trusted senior members of your faculty (including any associate dean for faculty development) before accepting a publication invitation of this kind.  Each institution honors these "extra" publications differently . . . . 

August 1, 2016 in Corporate Finance, Crowdfunding, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Is Good Corporate Governance Just a Matter of Common Sense?

Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase), Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Mary Barra (General Motors), Jeff Immet (GE), Larry Fink (Blackrock) and other executives think so and have published a set of "Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance" for public companies. There are more specifics in the Principles, but the key points cribbed from the front page of the new website are as follows:

Truly independent corporate boards are vital to effective governance, so no board should be beholden to the CEO or management. Every board should meet regularly without the CEO present, and every board should have active and direct engagement with executives below the CEO level;

■ Diverse boards make better decisions, so every board should have members with complementary and diverse skills, backgrounds and experiences. It’s also important to balance wisdom and judgment that accompany experience and tenure with the need for fresh thinking and perspectives of new board members;

■ Every board needs a strong leader who is independent of management. The board’s independent directors usually are in the best position to evaluate whether the roles of chairman and CEO should be separate or combined; and if the board decides on a combined role, it is essential that the board have a strong lead independent director with clearly defined authorities and responsibilities;

■ Our financial markets have become too obsessed with quarterly earnings forecasts. Companies should not feel obligated to provide earnings guidance — and should do so only if they believe that providing such guidance is beneficial to shareholders;

■ A common accounting standard is critical for corporate transparency, so while companies may use non-Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”) to explain and clarify their results, they never should do so in such a way as to obscure GAAP-reported results; and in particular, since stock- or options-based compensation is plainly a cost of doing business, it always should be reflected in non-GAAP measurements of earnings; and

■ Effective governance requires constructive engagement between a company and its shareholders. So the company’s institutional investors making decisions on proxy issues important to long-term value creation should have access to the company, its management and, in some circumstances, the board; similarly, a company, its management and board should have access to institutional investors’ ultimate decision makers on those issues.

I expect that shareholder activists, proxy advisory firms, and corporate governance nerds like myself will scrutinize the specifics against what the signatories’ companies are actually doing. Nonetheless, I commend these business leaders for at least starting a dialogue (even if a lot of the recommendations are basic common sense) and will be following this closely.

July 21, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Is Entity Type Material?

Today I will pose a simple question: Is Entity Type Material?  

Of course, context matters, so here's where this is coming from: On July 1, 2016, Canterbury Park Holding Corporation filed an 8-K making the following announcement: 

SHAKOPEE, Minnesota (July 1, 2016) - Canterbury Park Holding Corporation, a Minnesota corporation (Nasdaq Global Market: CPHC) (the “Company”), today announced that it has completed its previously announced reorganization of the Company’s business into a holding company structure (the “Reorganization”), pursuant to which a recently-formed Minnesota corporation with the same name, Canterbury Park Holding Company (“New Canterbury”), has replaced the Company as the publicly held corporation owned by the Company’s shareholders. At the market open today, July 1, 2016, the shares of common stock of New Canterbury will commence trading on the Nasdaq Global Market under the ticker symbol “CPHC,” the same ticker symbol previously used by the Company.

As a result of the Reorganization, the Company has been merged into a limited liability company subsidiary, Canterbury Park Entertainment LLC. In addition, the Company’s shareholders have automatically become shareholders of New Canterbury on a one-for-one basis, holding the same number of New Canterbury shares and the same ownership percentage after the Reorganization as they held immediately prior to the Reorganization. The business operations, directors and executive officers of the company will not change as a result of the Reorganization.

The exhibits list, though, provides: 

Exhibit No.
Description
2.1
Agreement and Plan of Merger, dated March 1, 2016, among Canterbury Park Holding Corporation, a Minnesota corporation, New Canterbury Park Holding Corporation, a Minnesota corporation, Canterbury Park Entertainment LLC, a Minnesota limited liability corporation. (Incorporated by reference to Exhibit 2.1 to the Registration Statement on Form S-4 (File No. 333-210877) filed with the SEC on April 22, 2016.)

A what?  You probably guessed it: a "Minnesota limited liability corporation." No, it's a limited liability company, as properly noted in the press release. 

Okay, so I suspect it's not really material to the SEC or most other investors in the sense that this is a mistake, as long as the filing and exhibit are otherwise accurate. I looked at the May 27, 2016, DEF 14A, which did list the LLC correctly.  However, in searching that document I found this was part of the 14A:

GGCP Holdings is a Delaware limited liability corporation having its principal business office at 140 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, CT 06830.

Sigh.  Well, it may not matter to the SEC, but it's material to me.  

 

July 19, 2016 in Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Caremark, Compliance, and Cooperation

Two weeks ago, I blogged about the potential unintended consequences of (1) Dodd-Frank whistleblower awards to compliance officers and in-house counsel and (2) the Department of Justice’s Yates Memo, which requires companies to turn over individuals (even before they have determined they are legally culpable) in order to get any cooperation credit from the government.

Today at the International Legal Ethics Conference, I spoke about the intersection of state ethics laws, common law fiduciary duties, SOX §307 and §806, and the potential erosion of the attorney-client relationship. I posed the following questions regarding lawyer/whistleblowers and the Yates Memo at the end of my talk:

  • How will this affect Upjohn warnings? (These are the corporate Miranda warnings and were hard enough for me to administer without me having to tell the employee that I might have to turn them over to the government after our conversation)
  • Will corporate employees ask for their own counsel during investigations or plead the 5th since they now run a real risk of being criminally and civilly prosecuted by DOJ?
  • Will companies have to pay for separate counsel for certain employees and must that payment be disclosed to DOJ?
  • Will companies turn people over to the government before proper investigations are completed just to save the company?
  • Will executives cooperate in an investigation? Why should they?
  • What’s the intersection with the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine (which Stephen Bainbridge has already criticized as "running amok")?
  • Will there be more claims/denials for D & O coverage?
  • Will individuals who cooperate get cooperation credit in their own cases?
  • Will employees turn on their superiors without proper investigation?
  • How will individuals/companies deal with parallel civil/criminal enforcement proceedings?
  • What about indemnification clauses in employment contracts?
  • Will there be more trials because there is little incentive for a corporation to plead guilty?
  • What about data privacy restrictions for multinationals who operate in EU?
  • How will this affect voluntary disclosure under the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizational Defendants, especially in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases?
  • What ‘s the impact on joint defense agreements?
  • As a lawyer for lawyers who want to be whistleblowers, can you ever advise them to take the chance of losing their license?

I didn’t have time to talk about the added complication of potential director liability under Caremark and its progeny. During my compliance officer days, I used Caremark’s name in vain to get more staff, budget, and board access so that I could train them on the basics on the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations. I explained to the Board that this line of cases required them to have some level of oversight over an effective compliance program. Among other things, Caremark required a program with “timely, accurate information sufficient to allow management and the board, each within its scope, to reach informed judgments concerning the [company’s] compliance with law and its business performance.”

I, like other compliance officers, often reviewed/re-tooled our compliance program after another company had negotiated a deferred or nonprosecution agreement with the government. These DPAs had an appendix with everything that the offending company had to do to avoid prosecution. Rarely, if ever, did the DPA mention an individual wrongdoer, and that’s been the main criticism and likely the genesis of the Yates Memo.

Boards will now likely have to take more of a proactive leadership role in demanding investigations at an early stage rather than relying on the GC or compliance officer to inform them of what has already occurred. Boards may need to hire their own counsel to advise on them on this and/or require the general counsel to have outside counsel conduct internal investigations at the outset. This leads to other interesting questions. For example, what happens if executives retain their own counsel and refuse to participate in an investigation that the Board requests? Should the Board designate a special committee (similar to an SLC in the shareholder derivative context) to make sure that there is no taint in the investigation or recommendations? At what point will the investigation become a reportable event for a public company? Will individual board members themselves lawyer up?

I will definitely have a lot to write about this Fall. If you have any thoughts leave them below or email me at mnarine@stu.edu.

July 14, 2016 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Ethics, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Book Spotlight: Empire of the Fund by William Birdthistle

Professor William Birdthistle at Chicago-Kent College of Law is publishing his new book, Empire of the Fund with Oxford University Press.  A brief introductory video for the book (available here) demonstrates both Professor Birdthistle’s charming accent and talent for video productions (this is obviously not his first video rodeo). Professor Birdthistle has generously provided our readers with a window into the book’s thesis and highlights some of its lessons.  I’ll run a second feature next week focusing on the process of writing a book—an aspiration/current project for many of us.

Empire of the Fund is segmented into four digestible parts:  anatomy of a fund describing the history and function of mutual funds, diseases & disorders addressing fees, trading practices and disclosures, alternative remedies introducing readers to ETFs, target date funds and other savings vehicles, and cures where Birdthistle highlights his proposals. For the discussion of the Jones v. Harris case alone, I think I will assign this book to my corporate law seminar class for our “book club”.  As other reviewers have noted, the book is funny and highly readable, especially as it sneaks in financial literacy.  And now, from Professor Birdthistle:

Things that the audience might learn:

The SEC does practically zero enforcement on fees.  [pp. 215-216]  Even though every expert understands the importance of fees on mutual fund investing, the SEC has brought just one or only two cases in its entire history against advisors charging excessive fees.  Section 36(b) gives the SEC and private plaintiffs a cause of action, but the SEC has basically ignored it; even prompting Justice Scalia to ask why during oral arguments in Jones v. Harris?  Private plaintiffs, on the other hand, bring cases against the wrong defendants (big funds with deep pockets but relatively reasonable fees).  So I urge the SEC to bring one of these cases to police the outer bounds of stratospheric fund fees.

The only justification for 12b-1 fees has been debunked.  [pp. 81-83]  Most investors don't know much about 12b-1 fees and are surprised by the notion that they should be paying to advertise funds in which they already invest to future possible investors.  The industry's response is that spending 12b-1 fees will bring in more investors and thus lead to greater savings for all investors via economies of scale.  The SEC's own financial economist, however, studied these claims and found (surprisingly unequivocally for a government official) that, yes, 12b-1 fees certainly are effective at bringing in new investment but, no, funds do not then pass along any savings to the funds' investors.  I sketch this out in a dialogue on page 81 between a pair of imaginary nightclub denizens.

Target-date funds are more dangerous than most people realize.  [pp. 172-174]  Target-date funds are embraced by many as a panacea to our investing problem and have been extremely successful as such.  But I point out some serious drawbacks with them.  First, they are in large part an end-of-days solution in which we essentially give up on trying to educate investors and encourage them simply to set and forget their investments; that's a path to lowering financial literacy, not raising it (which may be a particularly acute issue if my second objection materializes).  Second, TDFs rely entirely on the assumption that the bond market is the safety to which all investors should move as they age; but if we're heading for a historic bear market on bonds (as several intelligent and serious analysts have posited), we'll be in very large danger with a somnolent investing population

Continue reading

July 13, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Revising Regulation S-K

SEC disclosures are meant to provide material information to investors. As I hope all of my business associations students know, “information is material if there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable investor would consider the information important in deciding how to vote or make an investment decision.”

Regulation S-K, the central repository for non-financial disclosure statements, has been in force without substantial revision for over thirty years. The SEC is taking comments until July 21st on on the rule however, it is not revising “other disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K, such as executive compensation and governance, or the required disclosures for foreign private issuers, business development companies, or other categories of registrants.” Specifically, as stated in its 341-page Comment Release, the SEC seeks input on:

  • whether, and if so, how specific disclosures are important or useful to making investment and voting decisions and whether more, less or different information might be needed;
  • whether, and if so how, we could revise our current requirements to enhance the information provided to investors while considering whether the action will promote efficiency, competition, and capital formation;
  • whether, and if so how, we could revise our requirements to enhance the protection of investors;
  • whether our current requirements appropriately balance the costs of disclosure with the benefits;
  • whether, and if so how, we could lower the cost to registrants of providing information to investors, including considerations such as advancements in technology and communications;
  • whether and if so, how we could increase the benefits to investors and facilitate investor access to disclosure by modernizing the methods used to present, aggregate and disseminate disclosure; and
  • any challenges of our current disclosure requirements and those that may result from possible regulatory responses explored in this release or suggested by commenters.

As of this evening, thirty comments had been submitted including from Wachtell Lipton, which cautions against “overdisclosure” and urges more flexible means of communicating with investors; the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, which observes that 40% of 10-K disclosures on sustainability use boilerplate language and recommends a market standard for industry-specific disclosures (which SASB is developing); and the Pension Consulting Alliance, which agrees with SASB’s methodology and states that:

[our] clients increasingly request more ESG information related to their investments. Key PCA advisory services that are affected by ESG issues include:

  • Investment beliefs and investment policy development
  • Manager selection and monitoring
  • Portfolio-wide exposure to material ESG risks
  • Education and analysis on macro and micro issues
  • Proxy voting and engagement

This is an interesting time for people like me who study disclosures. Last week the SEC released its revised rule on Dodd-Frank §1504 that had to be re-written after court challenges. That rule requires an issuer “to disclose payments made to the U.S. federal government or a foreign government if the issuer engages in the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals and is required to file annual reports with the Commission under the Securities Exchange Act.” Representative Bill Huizenga, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade, introduced an amendment to the FY2017 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill, H.R. 5485, to prohibit funding for enforcement for another governance disclosure--Dodd-Frank conflict minerals.

SEC Chair White has herself questioned the wisdom of the SEC requiring and monitoring certain disclosures, noting the potential for investor information overload. Nonetheless, she and the agency are committed to enforcement. Her fresh look at disclosures reflects a balanced approach. If you have some spare time this summer and think the SEC’s disclosure system needs improvement, now is the time to let the agency know.

July 7, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Have the DOJ and SEC Complicated the Attorney-Client Relationship?

This post concerns the rights and responsibilities of whistleblowers. I sit on the Department of Labor Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee. These views are solely my own.

Within a week of my last day as a Deputy General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer for a Fortune 500 company and shortly before starting my VAP in academia, I testified before the House Financial Services Committee on the potential unintended consequences of the proposed Dodd-Frank whistleblower law on compliance programs. I blogged here about my testimony and the rule, which allows whistleblowers who provide original information to the SEC related to securities fraud or violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to receive 10 to 30 percent of the amount of the recovery in any action in which the Commission levies sanctions in excess of $1 million dollars. During my testimony in 2011, I explained to some skeptical members of Congress that:

…the legislation as written has a loophole that could allow legal, compliance, audit, and other fiduciaries to collect the bounty although they are already professionally obligated to address these issues. While the whistleblower community believes that these fiduciaries are in the best position to report to the SEC on wrongdoing, as a former in house counsel and compliance officer, I believe that those with a fiduciary duty should be excluded and have an “up before out” requirement to inform the general counsel, compliance officer or board of the substantive allegation or any inadequacy in the compliance program before reporting externally.

Thankfully, the final rule does have some limitations, in part, I believe because of my testimony and the urgings of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the American Bar Association and others. In a section of the SEC press release on the program discussing unintended consequences released a few weeks after the testimony, the agency stated:

    However, in certain circumstances, compliance and internal audit personnel as well as public accountants could become     whistleblowers when:

  • The whistleblower believes disclosure may prevent substantial injury to the financial interest or property of the entity or investors.
  • The whistleblower believes that the entity is engaging in conduct that will impede an investigation.
  • At least 120 days have elapsed since the whistleblower reported the information to his or her supervisor or the entity’s audit committee, chief legal officer, chief compliance officer – or at least 120 days have elapsed since the whistleblower received the information, if the whistleblower received it under circumstances indicating that these people are already aware of the information.

At least two compliance officers or internal audit personnel have in fact received awards—one for $300,000 and another for $1,500,000. When I served on a panel a couple of years ago with Sean McKessy, Chief of the Office of the Whistleblower, he made it clear that he expected lawyers, auditors, and compliance officers to step forward and would not hesitate to award them.

Compliance officers have even more incentive to be diligent (or become whistleblowers) because of the DOJ Yates Memo, which requires companies to serve up a high ranking employee in order for the company to get cooperation credit in a criminal investigation. I blogged about my concerns about the Memo’s effect on the attorney-client relationship here, stating:

The Yates memo raises a lot of questions. What does this mean in practice for compliance officers and in house counsel? How will this development change in-house investigations? Will corporate employees ask for their own counsel during investigations or plead the 5th since they now run a real risk of being criminally and civilly prosecuted by DOJ? Will companies have to pay for separate counsel for certain employees and must that payment be disclosed to DOJ? What impact will this memo have on attorney-client privilege? How will the relationship between compliance officers and their in-house clients change? Compliance officers are already entitled to whistleblower awards from the SEC provided they meet certain criteria. Will the Yates memo further complicate that relationship between the compliance officer and the company if the compliance personnel believe that the company is trying to shield a high profile executive during an investigation?

The US Chamber of Commerce shares my concerns and issued a report last month that echoes the thoughts of a number of defense attorneys I know. I will be discussing these themes and the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower aspect at the International Legal Ethics Conference on July 14th at Fordham described below:

Current Trends in Prosecutorial Ethics and Regulation

Ellen Yaroshefsky, Cardozo School of Law (US) (Moderator); Tamara Lave, University of Miami Law School (US); Marcia Narine, St. Thomas University School of Law (US);Lawrence Hellman, Oklahoma City University School of Law (US); Lissa Griffin, Pace University Law School (US); Kellie Toole, Adelaide Law School (Australia); and Eric Fish,Yale Law School (US)

Nationally and internationally, prosecutors' offices face new, as well as ongoing, challenges and their exercise of discretion significantly affects individuals and entities. This panel will explore a wide range of issues confronting the modern prosecutor. This will include certain ethical obligations in handling cases, organizational responsibility for wrongful convictions, the impact of the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in whistleblower cases, and the cultural shifts in prosecutors' offices.

To be clear, I believe that more corporate employees must go to jail to punish if not deter abuses. But I think that these mechanisms are the wrong way to accomplish that goal and may have a chilling effect on the internal investigations that are vital to rooting out wrongdoing. If you have any thoughts about these topics, please leave them below or email me at mnarine@stu.edu. My talk and eventual paper will also address the relationship between Sarbanes-Oxley, the state ethical rules, and the Catch-22 that in house counsel face because of the conflicting rules and the realities of modern day corporate life.

July 1, 2016 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)