Thursday, July 24, 2014
As many have celebrated or decried, Dodd-Frank turned four-years old this week. This is the law that Professor Stephen Bainbridge labeled "quack federal corporate governance round II" (round I was Sarbanes-Oxley, as labeled by Professor Roberta Romano). Some, like Professor Bainbridge, think the law has gone too far and has not only failed to meet its objectives but has actually caused more harm than good (see here, for example). Some think that the law has not gone far enough, or that the law as drafted will not prevent the next financial crisis (see here, for example). The Council on Foreign Relations discusses the law in an accessible manner with some good links here.
SEC Chair Mary Jo White has divided Dodd-Frank’s ninety-five mandates into eight categories. She released a statement last week touting the Volcker Rule, the new regulatory framework for municipal advisors, additional controls on broker-dealers that hold customer assets, reduced reliance on credit ratings, new rules for unregulated derivatives, additional executive compensation disclosures, and mechanisms to bar bad actors from securities offerings.
Notwithstanding all of these accomplishments, only a little over half of the law is actually in place. In fact, according to the monthly David Polk Dodd-Frank Progress Report:
As of July 18, 2014, a total of 280 Dodd-Frank rulemaking requirement deadlines have passed. Of these 280 passed deadlines, 127 (45.4%) have been missed and 153 (54.6%) have been met with finalized rules. In addition, 208 (52.3%) of the 398 total required rulemakings have been finalized, while 96 (24.1%) rulemaking requirements have not yet been proposed.
Many who were involved with the law’s passage or addressing the financial crisis bemoan the slow progress. The House Financial Services Committee wrote a 97-page report to call it a failure. So I have a few questions.
1) When Dodd-Frank turns five next year, how far behind will we still be, and will we have suffered another financial blip/setback/recession/crisis that supporters say could have been prevented by Dodd-Frank?
2) How will the results of the mid-term elections affect the funding of the agencies charged with implementing the law?
3) What will the SEC do to address the Dodd-Frank rules that have already been invalidated or rendered otherwise less effective after litigation from business groups such as §1502, Conflict Minerals Rule (see here for SEC response) or §1504, the Resource Extraction Rule (see here for court decision)?
4) Given the SEC's failure to appeal after the proxy access litigation and the success of the lawsuits mentioned above, will other Dodd-Frank mandates be vulnerable to legal challenge?
5) Will the whistleblower provision that provides 10-30% of any recovery over $1 million to qualified persons prevent the next Bernie Madoff scandal? I met with the SEC, members of Congress and testified about some of my concerns about that provision before entering academia, and I hope to be proved wrong.
Let's wait and see. I look forward to seeing how much Dodd-Frank has grown up this time next year.
Friday, July 18, 2014
At the risk of overdoing what may have been a good thing, I contributed a disclosure-oriented post to the Hobby Lobby symposium on The Conglomerate earlier today. It includes new information about a U.S. Department of Labor Q&A posted yesterday, among other things. Enjoy or not, as you so please . . . .
Monday, July 14, 2014
My post last week spawned more commentary than usual--on the BLPB site and off. So, I am regrouping on the same issue for my post today and plan to push forward a bit on some of the areas of commentary. Also, since The Conglomerate is running a Hobby Lobby symposium this week, I thought it might be nice to offer some thoughts on disclosure up here and (maybe) later chime in at The Conglomerate on this or other issues relating to the Hobby Lobby case later in the week . . . .
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
A recent article discussing the American Society of Civil Engineers' Report Card on U.S. infrastructure explains:
Without adequate investment on infrastructure the US could face a $2.4 trillion drop in consumer spending by 2020, a $1.1 trillion loss in total trade and experience the loss of 3.5 million jobs in 2020 alone.
This is just a sliver of the doom and gloom the American Society of Civil Engineers predicted this week with the release of their final report in the “Failure to Act” series that focuses on the impacts associated with continued infrastructure deterioration. The latest installment of the ASCE reports focuses on specifically on economic impacts.
Under current investment trends, only 60% of the investment funding required by 2020 will be secured and this underinvestment in infrastructure will have a “cascading impact on the nation’s economy” and culminate in a “gradual worsening of reliability over time,” Gregory E. DiLoreto, ASCE President told the participants on a conference call.
Back in 2007, I published an article titled, Misguided Energy: Why Recent Legislative, Regulatory, and Market Initiatives are Insufficient to Improve the U.S. Energy Infrastructure (here). In that article, I argued:
Soaring energy prices, natural gas supply shortages, and blackouts in major areas of the United States have led to a flurry of legislative and regulatory activity. Through this activity, lawmakers and regulators purport to resolve problems regarding natural gas and electricity supplies and service reliability. A major goal of these actions has been to address the overall energy crisis by increasing investment in the U.S. energy infrastructure. However, as is often the case with political remedies for difficult problems, what is being done and what legislators and policymakers claim is being done are two entirely different things. Recent legislative and regulatory policies are simply ill-equipped to have any substantial impact on the nation’s energy infrastructure in the foreseeable future. Although some of the policies provide long-term hope for increasing the amount and sources of capital available for investment, they are not adequate solutions to a current, and progressing, energy crisis.
Little has changed, but Congress's lack of focus remains. So here's the suggestion, for both energy infrastructure and business regulation: If we're going to add new rules or policies, let's make them clear, transparent, and focused. No 700-page laws or convoluted regulations. If we want to reduce fossil fuel consumption, add a carbon tax. If we want to get transmission infrastructure sited, give federal eminent domain authority for siting.
For now, from the SEC to FERC, let's just give it a try. Otherwise, we don't tend to facilitate markets, we tend to create carve outs that entrench existing powers. And we know how well that works.
Monday, July 7, 2014
The Court's Hobby Lobby decision, as noted in post-decision commentary (see, e.g., Sarah Hahn's guest post earlier this week), apparently relies in part on the fact that shareholders (and, potentially, employees and other relevant constituents of the firm) know that the firm has sincerely held religious beliefs and what those beliefs mean for business operations and legal compliance. The Court does not directly address this in its opinion. Rather, the opinion includes various references to owner engagement that imply buisness owner awareness. The Court states:
- For-profit corporations, with ownership approval, support a wide variety of charitable causes . . . . (Op. 23, emphasis added)
"So long as its owners agree, a for-profit corporation may take costly pollution-control and energy conservation measures that go beyond what the law requires." (Op. 23, emphasis added)
In making these statements and reasoning through this part of the opinion, the Court relies on state corporate law principles and allusions.
Importantly, the Court also indicates its views on how the policy underlying the RFRA favors an interpretation that includes corporations as persons:
An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations’ financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.
(Op. 18, emphasis in original) Note how the last sentence reduces the protected category of persons under the RFRA to those who "own and control" the firm at issue. This represents an interesting narrowing of constituency groups from the more inclusive treatment in the first sentence of the paragraph. The reason for this narrowing may be (likely is) a practical one, evidencing judicial restraint. The plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby actions were those who owned or controlled the corporation, and the decision likely will be limited in its application accordingly.
Given these breadcrumbs from the Court's opinion, should disclosure to shareholders or other constituencies be required, and if so, where would those disclosure rules reside as a matter of positive law? A blog post may be the wrong place to begin to address this issue (which is admittedly complex and involves, potentially, areas of law somewhat unfamiliar to me). But indulge me in a thought experiment here for a minute.
Saturday, July 5, 2014
The blogosphere has been a-twitter with commentary on Jamie Dimon's revelation earlier this week that he has throat cancer and will be undergoing treatments in the hope of eradicating it. From the public news, his prognosis sounds good. For that, I am sure all are grateful.
As some of you may know, my interest in issues relating to disclosures of facts from executives' private lives stems from my fascination, starting about 12 years ago, with the Martha Stewart disclosure cases (about which I wrote in law journals and in several chapters of a book that I edited). After co-writing the book about the basic concerns in Stewart's insider trading, misstatements/omissions securities fraud, and derivative fiduciary duty actions, I focused in additional articles on some finer points relating to her case. Two of these works covered the disclosure of private facts. Among the types of private facts covered are those relating to executive health concerns.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Rather than try to rehash what is now done, I will pose a different question: How does one reconcile this religious exercise with the profit-seeking mandate that the Delaware court imposes from time to time. As Chancellor Chandler noted in eBay v. Newmark (more here):
The corporate form in which craigslist operates, however, is not an appropriate vehicle for purely philanthropic ends, at least not when there are other stockholders interested in realizing a return on their investment.
Note that “purely” is not an entirely accurate modifier here. Craigslist made a profit and had some ventures that raised money. They just did not monetize the majority of the endeavors
So what about an entity that operates for purely religious ends? Hobby Lobby and those similarly situated seem to be saying that religion trumps profit (see, e.g., Chik_Fil-A closing on Sundays). This is not the argument that our business model is stronger because of our choices, which I have argued before should be protected, but this is saying we choose religion over profit.
As Chancellor Chandler noted in eBay, if there are no shareholders to complain, then perhaps it is not an issue. Still, as soon as a shareholder disagrees, will decisions such as limiting healthcare options (thus limiting the talent pool for employees) or closing on Sunday? It seems to me the Hobby Lobby decision has opened the door for several fiduciary duty fights down the road.
Can a corporation now choose to give a majority of its funds to a church, even if it harms the entity? I think no, but I hope, for the sake of businesses everywhere, the Court did not just create a First Amendment out to such fiduciary duties.
I have been catching up on my long backlist of reading and recently read an excellent article on litigation challenging the fees of mutual fund advisers: Quinn Curtis and John Morley, The Flawed Mechanics of Mutual Fund Fee Litigation.
As you may know, section 36(b) of the Investment Company Act of 1940 gives mutual fund investors and the SEC a cause of action to challenge excessive investment adviser fees.
Section 36(b) has generated quite a bit of academic commentary; Curtis and Morley’s footnote listing those articles (fn. 4, if you’re interested) takes up more than a page of single-spaced text. The Supreme Court has also recently chimed in on section 36(b). Jones v. Harris Assocs. L.P., 559 U.S. 335 (2010) discussed the standard for reviewing advisors’ fees under section 36(b).
Don’t worry; Curtis and Morley don’t rehash all of the earlier commentary. Instead, they take the existence of a section 36(b) cause of action as a given and ask how it can be improved to better achieve its purposes. Here’s the abstract:
We identify a number of serious mechanical flaws in the statutes and judicial doctrines that organize fee liability for mutual fund managers. Originating in section 36(b) of the Investment Company Act, this form of liability allows investors to sue managers for charging fees above a judicially created standard. Commentators have extensively debated whether this form of liability should exist, but in this paper we focus instead on improving the mechanics of how it actually works. We identify a number of problems. Among other things, statutes and case law give recoveries to investors who did not actually pay the relevant fees. Statutes and case law also impose no penalties to provide deterrence; they treat similar categories of fees differently; they create an unusual settlement process that prevents litigants from settling their full claims; they expose low-cost advisers to serious litigation risk; they exhibit deep confusion about what makes fees excessive; and they provide unduly small incentives for plaintiffs’ lawyers that are only adequate in cases of low merit. Most of these problems appear to be the unintended results of accidents and confusion, rather than deliberate policy choices. We conclude by offering specific ideas for reform.
The article, to be published in the Yale Journal of Regulation, was posted on SSRN in March, but it’s been sitting in my computer reading file since then. Better late than never. If you’re interested in the regulation of mutual funds and investment advisers, it’s definitely worth reading.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
I always enjoy reading Bryan Cave partner Scott Killingsworth's comments in various LinkedIn groups. In addition to practicing law, he’s a contributing editor to a treatise on the duties of board members. He’s just published a short but thorough essay on "The Privatization of Compliance." It reminds me of some of the comments that Dean Colin Scott made at Law and Society about tools of private transnational regulation, which include self-regulation, contracts, consumers, industry initiatives, corporate social responsibility programs and meta-regulators. Killingsworth’s abstract is below.
Corporate Compliance is becoming privatized, and privatization is going viral. Achieving consistent legal compliance in today’s regulatory environment is a challenge severe enough to keep compliance officers awake at night and one at which even well-managed companies regularly fail. But besides coping with governmental oversight and legal enforcement, companies now face a growing array of both substantive and process-oriented compliance obligations imposed by trading partners and other private organizations, sometimes but not always instigated by the government. Embodied in contract clauses and codes of conduct for business partners, these obligations often go beyond mere compliance with law and address the methods by which compliance is assured. They create new compliance obligations and enforcement mechanisms and touch upon the structure, design, priorities, functions and administration of corporate ethics and compliance programs. And these obligations are contagious: increasingly accountable not only for their own compliance but also that of their supply chains, companies must seek corresponding contractual assurances upstream, causing a chain reaction of proliferating and sometimes inconsistent mandates.
This essay examines the origins and the accelerating growth of the privatization of compliance requirements and oversight; highlights critical differences between compliance obligations imposed between private parties and those imposed by governmental actors; and evaluates the trend's benefits, drawbacks and likely direction. Particular attention is given to the use of supplier codes of conduct and contractual compliance mandates, often in combination; to the issue of contractual remedies for social, process-oriented, or vague obligations that may have little direct bearing on the object of the associated business transaction; to the proliferating trend of requiring business partners to "flow down" required conduct and compliance mechanisms to additional tiers within the supply chain; and to this trend's challenging implications for the corporate compliance function's role and its interaction with operations, procurement, and sales groups. Recommendations are made for achieving efficiencies and reducing system dysfunction by seeking a broad consensus on generally accepted principles for business-partner codes of conduct, compliance-related contract clauses, and remedies appropriate to each.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Harumph. Business as usual at the SCOTUS . . . . As a student and teacher of Basic v. Levinson and its progeny, I guess I had hoped for more from the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Halliburton, released two days ago. I haven't yet read all the articles on the case that were published since the release of the opinion (as usual, quite a number), so my thoughts here represent my personal reflections.
After engaging in some self-analysis, I have determined that my disappointment with the Court's opinion stems from the fact that I am a transactional lawyer . . . and the Court's opinion is about procedure. Not that civil and criminal procedure do not impact transactional law. Au contraire. The procedure and substance of Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 claims are intertwined in many fascinating ways. I will come back to that somewhat in a minute. But the Court's opinion in Halliburton just doesn't satisfy the transactional lawyer in me.
This also is somewhat true of the SCOTUS opinions in both Dura Pharmaceuticals and Tellabs, which deal with pleading (in)sufficiencies in Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 litigation rather than (as in Halliburton) class certification questions. In its class certification focus, Halliburton is much more the sibling of Amgen, which I find infinitely more satisfying because it (like Basic and Matrixx) focuses on materiality, which infuses all disclosure decisions. All of these cases, however, center on a defendant's ability to get dismissal of an action at an early stage, something that defendants in Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 cases desperately want to do. The longer the case goes on, the more incentive defendants have to settle--oftentimes (in my experience) foregoing the opportunity to defend themselves against specious claims because of the ongoing drain on financial and human resources.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Regular readers of this blog have seen several posts discussing the materiality of various SEC disclosures. See here and here for recent examples. I have been vocal about my objection to the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule, which requires US issuers to disclose their use of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold deriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding nations, and describe the measures taken to conduct audits and due diligence of their supply chains. See this post and this law review article.
Last year SEC Chair Mary Jo White indicated that she has concerns about the amount and types of disclosures that companies put forth and whether or not they truly assist investors in making informed decisions. In fact, the agency is undergoing a review of corporate disclosures and has recently announced that rather than focusing on disclosure “overload” the agency wants to look at “effectiveness,” duplication, and “holes in the regulatory regime where additional disclosure may be good for investors.”
I’m glad that the SEC is looking at these issues and I urge lawmakers to consider this SEC focus when drafting additional disclosure regulation. One possible test case is the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2014 (H.R. 4842) by Representative Carolyn Maloney, which would require companies with over $100 million in gross revenues to publicly disclose the measures they take to prevent human trafficking, slavery and child labor in their supply chains as part of their annual reports.
The sentiment behind Representative Maloney’s bill is similar to what drove the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule (without the extensive audit requirements) and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (CTSA). In her announcement she stated,
“Every day, Americans purchase products tainted by forced labor and this bill is a first step to end these inhumane practices. By requiring companies with more than $100 million in worldwide receipts to be transparent about their supply chain policies, American consumers can learn what is being done to stop horrific and illegal labor practices. This bill doesn’t tell companies what to do, it simply asks them to tell us what steps they are already taking. This transparency will empower consumers with more information that could impact their purchasing decisions.”
While the Conflict Minerals and CTSA are “name and shame” laws, which aim to change corporate behavior through disclosure, the proposed federal bill has a twist. It requires the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of State and other appropriate Federal and international agencies, independent labor evaluators, and human rights groups, to develop an annual list of the top 100 companies complying with supply chain labor standards.
I don’t have an issue with the basic premise of the proposed federal law because human trafficking is such a serious problem that the American Bar Association, the Department of Labor, and others have developed resources for corporations to tackle the problem within their supply chains. A number of states have also enacted laws, and in fact Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott, hardly the poster child for liberals, announced his own legislation this week (although it focuses on relief for victims).
Further, to the extent that companies are using the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to develop due diligence processes for their supply chains, this disclosure should not be difficult. In fact, the proposed bill specifically mentions the Guiding Principles. I don’t know how expensive the law will be to comply with, and I’m sure that there will be lobbying and tweaks if the bill gets out of the House. But If Congress wants to add this to the list of required corporate disclosures, legislators should monitor the SEC disclosure review carefully so that if the human trafficking bill passes, the agency’s implementing regulations appropriately convey legislative intent.
I know that corporations are interested in this issue because I spoke to a reporter yesterday who was prompted by recent articles and news reports to write about what boards should know about human trafficking in supply chains. As I told the reporter, although I applaud the initiatives I remain skeptical about whether these kinds of environmental, social and governance disclosures really affect consumer behavior and whether these are the best ways to protect the intended constituencies. That’s what I will be writing about this summer.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
A new poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, suggests that the desire for new Wall Street regulations has not been maximized by candidates for political office. Here are some of the poll's key findings. The release about the poll states:
A strong, bipartisan majority of likely 2014 voters support stricter federal regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business. Voters want accountability and do not want Wall Street pretending to police themselves: they want real cops back on the Wall Street beat enforcing the law.
As evidence, the release notes that David Brat's upset win over Eric Cantor in the Virginia 7th District Republican primary, may have been related to Brat's attack on Wall Street, sharing Brat's words from a radio interview: "The crooks up on Wall Street and some of the big banks — I'm pro-business, I'm just talking about the crooks — they didn't go to jail, they are on Eric's Rolodex."
The poll found that voters consider Wall Street and the large banks as "bad actors," with 64% saying, “the stock market is rigged for insiders and people who know how to manipulate the system.” Another 60% want “stricter regulation on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business.” Finally,
Voters believe another crash is likely and that regulation can help prevent another disaster. An 83 percent majority of voters believe another crash is likely within the next 10 years, and 43 percent very likely. Another 55 percent, however, agree “Stronger rules on Wall Street and big financial institutions by the federal government will help prevent another financial collapse.”
I don't doubt that voters believe this, but I also don't think this poll data will lead to much (if any) significant change. I concede the poll shows that the issue resonates with voters, but I think Brat's quote shows where the wiggle room is (and perhaps how other astute Republicans, particularly, may use the issue in their races). That is, I think the majority of Americans are "pro-business" and anti-crooks. That's not news. When it comes time to vote on new regulation, though, I expected Mr. Brat (should he win the election) would find that the proposals before him would only "hurt business" and "not punish crooks."
I could be wrong, of course, but I doubt it. Like "energy independence" and "good schools," I think this poll shows us another one of those issues where voters care more about hearing that the system needs to be fixed rather than an issue where voters will be keeping score to see if progress is made.
Monday, June 16, 2014
I have been working on a draft article for the University of Cincinnati Law Review based on a presentation that I gave this spring at the annual Corporate Law Symposium. This year's topic was "Crowdfunding Regulations and Their Implications." My draft article addresses the public-private divide in the context of the Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure Act--more commonly known as the CROWDFUND Act. I am using two pieces coauthored by Don Langevoort and Bob Thompson (here and here), as well as three works written by Hillary Sale (here, here, and here) to engage my analysis.
I also will be participating in a discussion group at the Southeastern Association of Law Schools annual conference in August on the publicness theme. That session is entitled "Does The Public/Private Divide In Federal Securities Regulation Make Sense?" and is scheduled for 3:00 pm on Augut 6th, for those attending the conference. Michael Guttentag was good enough to recruit the group for this discussion.
All this work on publicness has my head spinning! There are a number of unique conceptions of pubicness, some overlapping or otherwise interconnected, with different conceptions being useful in different circumstances. I am attracted to a number of observations in both the Langevoort/Thompson and Sale bodies of work, but there's clearly a lot more to think about from the standpoint of both scholarship and teaching.
So, today I ask: What does publicness mean to you? Does there continue to be salient meaning in the distinction between piublic and private (offerings, companies, etc.)? If so, what should publicness mean in these contexts? I am curious to see what others think.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
A few weeks ago, Tim Carney wrote a piece in the Washington Examiner that is stuck in my mind. The piece titled Conservatives, big government and the duty to care for the poor discusses what Carney sees as a shift in the rhetoric conservatives are using in reference to the poor and other vulnerable populations. Carney notes that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently referenced a “shared responsibility for the weak.” Carney continues:
Step away from policy debates and think about that phrase. Do you have a responsibility to help the weak? Do you have a responsibility to feed the hungry? To aid the poor?
I think I do. I think everyone does. The Catholic Church teaches us we do.
Conservatives sometimes shy away from this idea, though. One reason is a strong (and overblown) distaste to "helping the lazy." Another reason is that conservatives fear it implies the Left’s answer: big federal programs.
But, in fact, you can grant that you have a duty to the poor and the weak, and then have a really good debate:
Is that duty individual, or some sort of a communal duty?
Does the government have the legitimate right to transfer wealth to satisfy that duty, or is it solely an individual responsibility to fulfill that duty.
If aiding the poor is a legitimate government role, at what level is the aid appropriately delivered — local, state, federal?
I really don't see this as a new debate, but I agree it is a shift from the poverty debate I have seen over the past decade or so. This shift, though, goes back (at least) to the debates of what I remember in the 1980s and early 1990s. The question then, as I recall my vigorous (sometimes informed) college and early career discussions, was not whether the poor needed help. The question was how best to provide that help. (I'll note that even then, conservatives were likely to call me liberal, and liberals often called me conservative. Some things remain the same, I guess.)
Carney frames the conversation appropriately, and asks the right questions because it starts with the right assumption: that helping the poor is required. He notes:
Then there’s plenty of very practical debates: Are federal programs inevitably too bloated and inflexible? Or alternatively, maybe only the federal government has the economies of scale (and ability to make its own money) needed to run a safety net, particularly in economic downturns.
So, what does this have to do with business law? Well, in part, if we agree there is a duty, we must talk about whose duty it is. Is it individual? Is it a communal governmental duty? A communal non-governmental duty? Is it a duty of all people, including corporate persons? To what extent?
Further, the role of government in protecting the weak extends beyond poverty programs. It applies to securities regulation, environmental regulation, and tax policy, all of which are directly, or at least very closely, related to business law. In all of these cases, I think the question of the poverty debate carries through: how do we carry out, as Sen. McConnell put it, our “shared responsibility for the weak?”
The conversation that follows that question is a good one because it does not reduce all arguments to some version of "caveat emptor" or only the "government/market will fix it." Instead, the questions can be, for example: Does less regulation increase risks to vulnerable parties or increase access to opportunities for such parties? If the answer is both, as it often is, how do we balance those risks and opportunities?
The market is often the best solution, but one still needs to explain why that's true, rather than blindly relying on some amorphous, all-knowing "market." And as those of us who work closely with regulated industries know, we need to acknowledge that all markets have rules (public and/or private), and those rules impact how effective that market will be and for whom. As such, the poverty debate is also largely a regulatory debate. In all cases, if we start in the right place, better policy is likely to follow.
Monday, June 9, 2014
Today, we finished two days of amazingly rich discourse on business law issues at the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Workshop on Blurring Boundaries in Financial and Corporate Law in Washington, DC. (Full disclosure: I chaired the planning committee for this AALS midyear meeting.) All of the proceedings have been phenomenally interesting. I have learned so many things and been forced to think about so much . . . . For those of you who couldn't be there, I tried to faithfully pick up a bunch of salient points from the talks and discussions on Twitter using #AALSBB2014. Moreover, some of the meeting was recorded. I will try to remember to let you know when, to whom, and how those recordings are being made available. (Feel free to remind me if I forget . . . .)
One idea shared at the workshop that I am particularly intrigued by is the use of a new standard in federal securities regulation, suggested by Tom Lin in his talk as part of this morning's plenary panel on "Complexity". He argues for an "algorithmic investor" standard (working off/refining the concept of the reasonable investor) in light of the growth of algorithmic trading. It's predictable that I would be interested in this idea, given that I write about materiality in securities regulation (especially insider trading law, in articles posted here and here), in which the reasonable investor standard is central. (In fact, Tom was kind enough to mention my work on the resonable investor standard in his talk.)
Tom is not the first to argue for a securities regulation standard that better serves specific investor populations. Memorable in this regard, at least for me, is Maggie Sachs's paper arguing for a standard focused on the "least sophisticated investor". But many other fine works contending with materiality or the concept of the reasonable investor in securities regulation also question (among other things) the clarity and efficacy of the reasonable investor standard in specific contexts.
Today, rather than my usual profound insights, I’m going to pose a question to our readers. (What do you mean, what “usual profound insights”?)
I have been thinking about applying for a Fulbright to teach overseas. The problem is that Fulbright applications are country-specific and I’m having trouble deciding where I would like to teach.
There are several ways to approach this problem. The first approach would be to look for the greatest possible geographical distance from Lincoln, Nebraska. I think this would be my Dean’s preference. But, as my Dean will tell you, pleasing her is almost never one of my criteria.
The second approach would be to choose the place with the greatest beach. This seems like a sound approach to me, but there seems to be a serious shortage of teaching opportunities in places like Tahiti.
That leaves but one possibility—choosing a location that best fits my particular teaching and research interests. My primary focus is securities regulation, particularly the application of securities law to small businesses. Given that focus what would be the best country to visit? Where would I find both (1) interesting things going on in securities regulation of small businesses and (2) people interested in learning about the U.S. approach to these issues?
China is an obvious choice, but what other countries would make sense? (I’m a coward, so please don’t suggest any countries that would require me to dodge bullets.)
Here’s your chance, blog readers: tell me where to go. (Keep it nice.)
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Last week I posted about proxy advisory firm ISS and its recommendations regarding Wal-Mart and Target.
This week the US Chamber of Commerce weighed in on the two main proxy advisory firms, what the organization sees as their potential conflict of interests and the lack of transparency, and the SEC’s imminent release of guidance on the firms. It’s worth a read and has some great links.
Next week I will be blogging from Salvador, Brazil where I will be enjoying the World Cup. I will post a brief recap of some of the business-related Law and Society sessions I attended in Minneapolis last weekend. With all of the controversy that invariably surrounds a large sporting event in a country that scores high on the corruption perception index, I may even be inspired to write a law review article on the FCPA.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Thanks for the warm welcome to the Business Law Prof Blog, Stefan et al. Having avoided a regular blogging gig for many years now (little known fact: I was the first guest blogger on The Conglomerate – or at least the first one formally listed as a guest – back in 2005), I recently determined that I should sign on to work with this band of thieves scholars on a regular basis. I appreciate the invitation to do so.
I already feel right at home, given that my post for today, like Steve Bradford's, is on mandatory disclosure. Unlike Steve, however, my focus is on the creep of mandatory disclosure rules in U.S. securities regulation into policy areas outside the scope of securities regulation. I think we all know what "creep" means in this context. But just to clarify, my definition of "creep" for these purposes is: "to move slowly and quietly especially in order to not be noticed." I participated in a discussion roundtable in which I raised this subject at the Law and Society Association annual meeting and conference last week.
My concerns about this issue were well expressed by Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White back in early October 2013 in her remarks at the 14th Annual A.A. Sommer, Jr. Corporate Securities and Financial Law Lecture at Fordham Law School:
When disclosure gets to be too much or strays from its core purposes, it can lead to “information overload” – a phenomenon in which ever-increasing amounts of disclosure make it difficult for investors to focus on the information that is material and most relevant to their decision-making as investors in our financial markets.
To safeguard the benefits of this “signature mandate,” the SEC needs to maintain the ability to exercise its own independent judgment and expertise when deciding whether and how best to impose new disclosure requirements.
For, it is the SEC that is best able to shape disclosure rules consistent with the federal securities laws and its core mission. But from time to time, the SEC is directed by Congress or asked by interest groups to issue rules requiring disclosure that does not fit within our core mission.
She goes on to note that some recent disclosure rules mandated by Congress:
. . . seem more directed at exerting societal pressure on companies to change behavior, rather than to disclose financial information that primarily informs investment decisions.
That is not to say that the goals of such mandates are not laudable. Indeed, most are. Seeking to improve safety in mines for workers or to end horrible human rights atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are compelling objectives, which, as a citizen, I wholeheartedly share.
But, as the Chair of the SEC, I must question, as a policy matter, using the federal securities laws and the SEC’s powers of mandatory disclosure to accomplish these goals.
Parts of these remarks—those on information overload—were echoed in a speech that Chair White gave to the National Association of Corporate Directors Leadership Conference.
Chair White's words ring true to me. I derive from them two main contestable points for thought and commentary.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Professor Joan MacLeod Heminway (Tennessee) has a new article posted on SSRN entitled Investor and Market Protection in the Crowdfunding Era: Disclosing to and for the 'Crowd.' I look forward to reading the article this summer. The article abstract is posted below:
This article focuses on disclosure regulation in a specific context: securities crowdfunding (also known as crowdfund investing or investment crowdfunding). The intended primary audience for disclosures made in the crowdfund investing setting is the “crowd,” an ill-defined group of potential and actual investors in securities offered and sold through crowdfunding. Securities crowdfunding, for purposes of this article, refers to an offering of securities made over the Internet to a broad-based, unstructured group of investors who are not qualified by geography, financial wherewithal, access to information, investment experience or acumen, or any other criterion.
To assess disclosure to and for the crowd, this short symposium piece proceeds in three principal parts before concluding. First, the article briefly describes securities crowdfunding and the related disclosure and regulatory environments. Next, the article summarizes basic principles from scholarly literature on the nature of investment crowds. This literature outlines two principal ways in which the behavioral psychology of crowds interacts with securities markets. On the one hand, crowds can be “mad” — irrational, foolish, and even stupid. On the other hand, crowds can be “wise” — rational, sensible, and intelligent. After outlining these two strains in the literature on the behavioral attributes of crowds, the article assesses the possible implications of that body of literature for the regulation of disclosure in the securities-crowdfunding setting. The work concludes by asserting that, when considering and designing disclosure to and for the securities-crowdfunding crowd, the insights from this behavioral literature should be taken into account.
Tomorrow kicks off the 2014 Law & Society Annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN. Law & Society is a big tent conference that includes legal scholars of all areas, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, and the list goes on and on. A group of female corporate law scholars, of which I am a part, organizes several corporate-law panels. The result is that we have a mini- business law conference of our own each year. Below is a preview of the schedule...please join us for any and all panels listed below.
0575 Corp Governance & Locus of Power
U. St. Thomas MSL 458
Participants: Tamara Belinfanti, Jayne Barnard, Megan Shaner, Elizabeth Noweiki, and Christina Sautter
1412 Empirical Examinations of Corporate Law
U. St. Thomas MSL 458
Participants: Elisabeth De Fontenay, Connie Wagner, Lynne Dallas, Diane Dick & Cathy Hwang
1468 Theorizing Corp. Law
U. St. Thomas MSL 458
Participants: Elizabeth Pollman, Sarah Haan, Marcia Narine, Charlotte Garden, and Christyne Vachon
1:00 Business Meeting Board Rm 3
Roundtable on SEC Authority
Participants: Christyne Vachon, Elizabeth Pollman, Joan Heminway, Donna Nagy, Hilary Allen
1473 Emerging International Questions in Corp. Law
U. St. Thomas MSL 458
Participants: Sarah Dadush, Melissa Durkee, Marleen O'Conner, Hilary Allen, and Kish Vinayagamoorthy
1479 Examining Market Actors
U. St. Thomas MSL 321
Participants: Summer Kim, Anita Krug, Christina Sautter, Dana Brackman, and Anne Tucker
1474 Market Info. & Mandatory Disclosures
U. St. Thomas MSL 321
Participants: Donna Nagy, Joan Heminway, Wendy Couture, and Anne Tucker