Friday, January 8, 2021

New Edition of Problem-Based White Collar Crime Textbook Forthcoming

    Along with my co-authors J. Kelly Strader, Mihailis E. Diamantis, and Sandra D. Jordan, I am pleased to announce that the Fourth Edition of our textbook White Collar Crime: Cases, Materials, and Problems has gone to press and is expected to be available through Carolina Academic Press by June of 2021, in plenty of time for Fall 2021 adoptions.

    Professor Diamantis and I are excited to join Professors Strader and Jordan in the new edition. We hope that our unique practice experiences and theoretical perspectives will add value to what is already a popular White Collar casebook. We have posted the current drafts of Chapter 1 (Overview of White Collar Crime) and Chapter 5 (Securities Fraud) on SSRN as samples for review. Here, also, is an excerpt from the Preface summarizing our approach to the new edition:

[W]e have endeavored to write a problem-based casebook that provides a topical, informative, and thought-provoking perspective on this rapidly evolving area of the law. We also believe that the study of white collar criminal law and practice raises unique issues of criminal law and justice policy, and serves as an excellent vehicle for deepening our understanding of criminal justice issues in general. For the fourth edition, we have continued to emphasize the text’s focus on practice problems while also deepening policy and theoretical discussion. …

Throughout the text, our goal has been to provide leading and illustrative cases in each area, focusing where possible on United States Supreme Court opinions. …

In the introductory materials to each of the substantive crime chapters, we have included an overview of the law and the statutory elements. Because our goal is to teach principally through the study of the cases, we have tried to edit the cases judiciously. We include a number of concurring and dissenting opinions, both because these opinions help elucidate the issues and because in close cases today’s dissent may be tomorrow’s majority. Following the cases, we also include notes on important issues those cases raise on matters of law, policy, and theory. We have tried to keep the notes concise, where possible, and hope that they will service as starting points for rich class discussions.

Finally, we intersperse practice problems throughout the casebook. The problems focus on substantive law, procedural issues, and ethical dilemmas that arise in white collar practice. The text is designed to be used flexibly and thus lends itself both to comprehensive study of black letter law and to a problems-based approach.

    The textbook includes a teacher's manual with teaching tips, possible side topics for course discussion, and detailed solutions to practice problems.

January 8, 2021 in Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Ten Business Questions for the Biden Administration

If you read the title, you’ll see that I’m only going to ask questions. I have no answers, insights, or predictions until the President-elect announces more cabinet picks. After President Trump won the election in 2016, I posed eleven questions and then gave some preliminary commentary based on his cabinet picks two months later. Here are my initial questions based on what I’m interested in -- compliance, corporate governance, human rights, and ESG. I recognize that everyone will have their own list:

  1. How will the Administration view disclosures? Will Dodd-Frank conflict minerals disclosures stay in place, regardless of the effectiveness on reducing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Will the US add mandatory human rights due diligence and disclosures like the EU??
  2. Building on Question 1, will we see more stringent requirements for ESG disclosures? Will the US follow the EU model for financial services firms, which goes into effect in March 2021? With ESG accounting for 1 in 3 dollars of assets under management, will the Biden Administration look at ESG investing more favorably than the Trump DOL? How robust will climate and ESG disclosure get? We already know that disclosure of climate risks and greenhouse gases will be a priority. For more on some of the SEC commissioners’ views, see here.
  3. President-elect Biden has named what is shaping up to be the most diverse cabinet in history. What will this mean for the Trump administration’s Executive Order on diversity training and federal contractors? How will a Biden EEOC function and what will the priorities be?
  4. Building on Question 3, now that California and the NASDAQ have implemented rules and proposals on board diversity, will there be diversity mandates in other sectors of the federal government, perhaps for federal contractors? Is this the year that the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act passes? Will this embolden more states to put forth similar requirements?
  5. What will a Biden SEC look like? Will the SEC human capital disclosure requirements become more precise? Will we see more aggressive enforcement of large institutions and insider trading? Will there be more controls placed on proxy advisory firms? Is SEC Chair too small of a job for Preet Bharara?
  6. We had some of the highest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act fines on record under Trump’s Department of Justice. Will that ramp up under a new DOJ, especially as there may have been compliance failures and more bribery because of a world-wide recession and COVID? It’s more likely that sophisticated companies will be prepared because of the revamp of compliance programs based on the June 2020 DOJ Guidance on Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs and the second edition of the joint SEC/DOJ Resource Guide to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. (ok- that was an insight).
  7. How will the Biden Administration promote human rights, particularly as it relates to business? Congress has already taken some action related to exports tied to the use of Uighur forced labor in China. Will the incoming government be even more aggressive? I discussed some potential opportunities for legislation related to human rights abuses abroad in my last post about the Nestle v Doe case in front of the Supreme Court. One area that could use some help is the pretty anemic Obama-era US National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.
  8. What will a Biden Department of Labor prioritize? Will consumer protection advocates convince Biden to delay or dismantle the ERISA fiduciary rule? Will the 2020 joint employer rule stay in place? Will OSHA get the funding it needs to go after employers who aren’t safeguarding employees with COVID? Will unions have more power? Will we enter a more worker-friendly era?
  9. What will happen to whistleblowers? I served as a member of the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee for a few years under the Obama administration. Our committee had management, labor, academic, and other ad hoc members and we were tasked at looking at 22 laws enforced by OSHA, including Sarbanes-Oxley retaliation rules. We received notice that our services were no longer needed after the President’s inauguration in 2017. Hopefully, the Biden Administration will reconstitute it. In the meantime, the SEC awarded record amounts under the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program in 2020 and has just reformed the program to streamline it and get money to whistleblowers more quickly.
  10. What will President-elect Biden accomplish if the Democrats do not control the Congress?

There you have it. What questions would you have added? Comment below or email me at mweldon@law.miami.edu. 

December 18, 2020 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 11, 2020

Podgor on Whether Being Gay Mattered in Carpenter v. United States

Many of us have been looking for new opportunities to raise and discuss issues of diversity and inclusion (including, but not limited to, race, gender, and LGBTQ issues) in our Business Associations and Securities Regulations classes. Along these lines, I’ve been inspired by a number of my BLPB co-editors’ recent posts. (See, e.g., here, here, and here—just in the last week!) With these thoughts in mind, and as we start preparing our course syllabi for the spring semester, I recommend you read Professor Ellen Podgor’s forthcoming article, Carpenter v. United States, Did Being Gay Matter?, 15 Tenn. J. L. Pol’y 115 (2020). Here’s the abstract:

Carpenter v. United States (1987) is a case commonly referenced in corporations, securities, and white collar crime classes. But the story behind the trading of pre-publication information from the "Heard on the Street" columns of the Wall Street Journal may be a story that has not been previously told. This Essay looks at the Carpenter case from a different perspective - gay men being prosecuted at a time when gay relationships were often closeted because of discriminatory policies and practices. This Essay asks the question of whether being gay mattered to this prosecution.

This article was written for the same symposium on insider trading stories held at the University of Tennessee College of Law that my BLPB co-editor Joan Heminway wrote about here and here.

Oh, and while I’m touting the excellent work of Professor Podgor, I should note another of her forthcoming articles recently posted to SSRN: The Dichotomy Between Overcriminalization and Underregulation, 70 Am. U. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2021). Here’s an edited version of the abstract:

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) failed to properly investigate Bernard Madoff’s multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme for over ten years. Many individuals and charities suffered devastating financial consequences from this criminal conduct, and when eventually charged and convicted, Madoff received a sentence of 150 years in prison. Improper regulatory oversight was also faulted in the investigation following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Employees of the company lost their lives, and individuals were charged with criminal offenses. These are just two of the many examples of agency failures to properly enforce and provide regulatory oversight, with eventual criminal prosecutions resulting from the conduct. The question is whether the harms accruing from misconduct and later criminal prosecutions could have been prevented if agency oversight had been stronger. Even if criminal punishment were still necessitated, would prompt agency action have diminished the public harm and likewise decreased the perpetrator’s criminal culpability? …

This Article examines the polarized approach to overcriminalization and underregulation from both a substantive and procedural perspective, presenting the need to look holistically at government authority to achieve the maximum societal benefit. Focusing only on the costs and benefits of regulation fails to consider the ramifications to criminal conduct and prosecutions in an overcriminalized world. This Article posits a moderated approach, premised on political economy, that offers a paradigm that could lead to a reduction in our carceral environment, and a reduction in criminal conduct.

December 11, 2020 in Corporations, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 7, 2020

Spousal Misappropriation - A Special Breed of Insider Trading Action

In a recently published article just posted to SSRN, I examine spousal misappropriation as a basis for an insider trading claim.  The article, Women Should Not Need to Watch Their Husbands Like [a] Hawk: Misappropriation Insider Trading in Spousal Relationships, leverages the facts of a specific Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement action (SEC v. Hawk, No. 5:14-cv-01466 (N.D. Cal.)), to undertake an analysis of applicable statutory and regulatory principles, existing decisional law, and the realities of the legal and social context.  The SSRN abstract, derived from the text of the article, follows.

This article endeavors to sort through and begin to resolve key unanswered questions regarding spousal misappropriation as a basis for U.S. insider trading liability, some of which apply to insider trading more broadly. It identifies and describes misappropriation insider trading liability under U.S. law, recounts and analyzes probative doctrine and policy relevant to spousal misappropriation cases, and (before briefly concluding) offers related observations about the impact of that doctrine and policy on a specific motivating Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") enforcement action and other spousal misappropriation cases.

The analysis undertaken in the article supports enforcement actions based on a strong threshold presumption of a relationship of trust and confidence in spousal relations, as recognized by the SEC through its adoption of Rule 10b5-2(b)(3). This support derives from a focus on two fundamental building blocks of spousal misappropriation cases addressed in the article—a broad understanding of deception as it is relevant to these cases and longstanding accepted sociolegal wisdom on the nature of marital relationships as evidenced in the spousal communications privilege. Essentially, marriage is best seen as a relationship of trust and confidence. To the extent a spouse’s breach of that trust or confidence is deceptive and occurs in connection with the purchase or sale of securities, the breach should be deemed to provide a basis for insider trading enforcement (and liability). Market integrity is damaged through marital deception in the same way that it is damaged through the deception by an attorney of a client or the attorney’s law firm partners. Market actors depend on the confidentiality of information shared in marriages as well as information shared in attorney-client relationships and partnerships.

The article is one of a number that were written for a symposium on insider trading stories held at The University of Tennessee College of Law last fall.  They all occupy the same issue of the Tennessee Journal of Law & Policy, which hosted the symposium.  The other authors include (in the order of their respective article's appearance in the journal): Donna Nagy, BLPB co-editor John Anderson, Eric Chaffee, Mike Guttentag, Ellen Podgor, Kevin Douglas, and Jeremy Kidd.  The ideas for these articles were originally the subject of a discussion group convened by John Anderson and me at the 2019 Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools ("SEALS"). 

That reminds me to note for all that it is now time to submit proposals for the 2021 SEALS conference.  John Anderson and I will again convene an insider trading group for this meeting.  And I also will be proposing a discussion group (based in part on the colloquy between Ann Lipton and me here) on the treatment of business entity organic documents (including corporate charters and bylaws, limited liability company/operating agreements, and partnership agreements) as contracts and the application of contract law to their interpretation and enforcement.  If you have a desire to participate in either group or want to propose a program of your own (whether it be a panel or a discussion group), please let me know in the comments or by private message.

December 7, 2020 in Ann Lipton, Corporate Governance, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 30, 2020

Verstein on Insider Trading and the "Use-versus-Possession" Controversy

The courts have interpreted Section 10b of the Securities and Exchange Act as prohibiting insiders from trading in their own company’s shares only if they do so “on the basis of” material nonpublic information. This element of scienter for insider trading liability is sometimes tricky for regulators and prosecutors to satisfy because insiders who possess material nonpublic information at the time of their trade will often claim they did not use that information. The insider may claim that her true motives for trading were entirely innocent (e.g., to diversify her portfolio, to pay a large tax bill, or to buy a new house or boat). Such lawful bases for trading can be easy for insiders to manufacture and are often difficult for regulators and prosecutors to disprove.

Historically, the SEC and prosecutors sought to overcome this challenge by taking the position that knowing possession of material nonpublic information while trading is sufficient to satisfy the "on the basis of" test. This strategy met mixed results before the courts, with some circuits holding that proof of scienter under Section 10b requires proof that the trader actually used the inside information in making the trade.

Facing a circuit split, the SEC attempted to settle the “use-versus-possession” debate by adopting Rule 10b5-1, which defines trading “on the basis of” material nonpublic information for purposes of insider trading liability as trading while “aware” of such information. A number of commentators, however, question the statutory authority for Rule 10b5-1, and some courts have simply “ignored” it. See Donald C. Langevoort, “Fine Distinctions” in the Contemporary Law of Insider Trading, 2013 Columbia Bus. L. Rev. 429, 439 (2013).

Professor Andrew Verstein’s forthcoming article, Mixed Motives Insider Trading, (Volume 106 of the Iowa Law Review) charts a “third way” to resolve the ongoing use-versus-possession controversy. Professor Verstein would impose liability for mixed-motives insider trading only where material nonpublic information provides the “primary motive” for the trading. While I have argued elsewhere that a strict “use” test best complies with Section 10b’s scienter requirement, Professor Verstein’s primary-motive test offers a significant improvement over the strict awareness test reflected in both SEC Rule 10b5-1 and the Insider Trading Prohibition Act recently passed by the House of Representatives. For these reasons, Professor Verstein’s proposal warrants serious consideration as regulators and legislators consider paths to reform.

The SSRN abstract to Professor Verstein’s article follows:

If you trade securities on the basis of careful research, then you are a brilliant and shrewd investor. If you trade on the basis of a hot tip from your brother-in-law, an investment banker, then you are a criminal. What if you trade for both reasons?

There is no single answer, thanks to a three-way circuit split. Some courts would forgive you according to your lawful trading motives, some would convict you in keeping with your bad motives, and some would hand the issue to the jury. Sometimes called the “awareness/use” debate or the “possession/use” debate, the proper treatment of mixed motive traders has occupied dozens of law review articles over the last thirty years.

This Article demonstrates that courts and scholars have so far followed the wrong reasons to the wrong answers. Instead, this Article takes trader motives seriously, drawing on insights and solutions from the broader jurisprudence of mixed motive. This analysis generates a new legal test and demonstrates the test’s superiority.

October 30, 2020 in Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 26, 2020

Chiarella at 40: Upcoming Conference

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The NYU Pollack Center for Law & Business, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society invite you to a virtual program entitled "Insider Trading: Honoring the Past|A Program Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Chiarella v. United States," which will take place on Thursday, November 5th from 10am-noon Eastern Time.

The program will explore the fascinating backstories of the Chiarella prosecution and the Supreme Court argument as well as the SEC’s and DOJ’s insider trading enforcement strategies in the wake of the Court’s ruling. The Chiarella case is also the subject of Donna Nagy’s recent essay, Chiarella v. United States and its Indelible Impact on Insider Trading Law.

A webinar link will be circulated to all those who RSVP, which you can do here. Conference details and schedule are below.

Conference Organizers:

Stephen Choi, Murray and Kathleen Bring Professor of Law, NYU School of Law, Co-Director Pollack Center for Law and Business
Donna M. Nagy, C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Jane Cobb, Executive Director, SEC Historical Society

Schedule:

10:00am Welcome by Stephen Choi, Murray and Kathleen Bring Professor of Law, NYU School of Law, Co-Director Pollack Center for Law and Business

10:10-11:10am    Session I: The Chiarella Prosecution and Supreme Court Litigation

John S. Siffert, Co-Founding Partner, Lankler Siffert Wohl; Adjunct Professor—NYU School of Law (Assistant US Attorney in the SDNY 1974-1979, prosecuted the Chiarella case and argued the 2nd Circuit appeal)
John “Rusty” Wing, Partner, Lankler Siffert Wohl (Chief of the Securities and Business Fraud Unit for the SDNY’s U.S. Attorney’s Office 1971-1978)
Hon. Judge Jed S. Rakoff, U.S. District Judge SDNY (Chief of the Securities and Business Fraud Unit for the SDNY’s U.S. Attorney’s Office 1978-1980)
Stanley S. Arkin, founding member of Arkin Solbakken (represented Vincent Chiarella at his criminal trial, 2nd Circuit appeal, and argument before the Supreme Court)
• Panel Moderator: Donna M. Nagy, C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

11:10am-12:00pm    Session II: The SEC and DOJ’s Response to the Supreme Court’s Chiarella Decision

Donald C. Langevoort, Thomas Aquinas Reynolds Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center (SEC Special Counsel, Office of General Counsel, 1978-1981)
Lee S. Richards III, Co-Founding Partner, Richards Kibbe & Orbe (Assistant US Attorney in the SDNY 1977-1983, prosecuted US v. Newman based on the misappropriation theory advanced in, but left undecided by, the Court’s Chiarella ruling)
Hon. Judge Jed S. Rakoff, U.S. District Judge SDNY (SDNY Fraud Unit Chief during the Newman investigation, later served as defense counsel in Carpenter v. United States)
• Panel Moderator: Robert B. Thompson, Peter P. Weidenbruch, Jr. Professor of Business Law Georgetown University Law Center

October 26, 2020 in Conferences, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 2, 2020

Sex, Lies, and M&A- Part II

No. You didn't miss Part 1. I wrote about Weinstein clauses last July. Last Wednesday, I spoke with a reporter who had read that blog post.  Acquirors use these #MeToo/Weinstein clauses to require target companies to represent that there have been no allegations of, or settlement related to, sexual misconduct or harassment. I look at these clauses through the lens of a management-side employment lawyer/compliance officer/transactional drafting professor. It’s almost impossible to write these in a way that’s precise enough to provide the assurances that the acquiror wants or needs.

Specifically, the reporter wanted to know whether it was unusual that Chevron had added this clause into its merger documents with Noble Energy. As per the Prospectus:

Since January 1, 2018, to the knowledge of the Company, (i), no allegations of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct have been made against any employee of the Company with the title of director, vice president or above through the Company’s anonymous employee hotline or any formal human resources communication channels at the Company, and (ii) there are no actions, suits, investigations or proceedings pending or, to the Company’s knowledge, threatened related to any allegations of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct by any employee of the Company with the title of director, vice president or above. Since January 1, 2018, to the knowledge of the Company, neither the Company nor any of its Subsidiaries have entered into any settlement agreements related to allegations of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct by any employee of the Company with the title of director, vice president or above.

Whether I agree with these clauses or not, I can see why Chevron wanted one. After all, Noble’s former general counsel left the company in 2017 to “pursue personal interests” after accusations that he had secretly recorded a female employee with a video camera under his desk. To its credit, Noble took swift action, although it did give the GC nine million dollars, which to be fair included $8.3 million in deferred compensation. Noble did not, however, exercise its clawback rights. Under these circumstances, if I represented Chevron, I would have asked for the same thing. Noble’s anonymous complaint mechanisms went to the GC’s office. I’m sure Chevron did its own social due diligence but you can never be too careful. Why would Noble agree? I have to assume that the company’s outside lawyers interviewed as many Noble employees as possible and provided a clean bill of health. Compared with others I’ve seen, the Chevron Weinstein clause is better than most.

Interestingly, although several hundred executives have left their positions due to allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment since 2017, only a small minority of companies use these Weinstein clauses. Here are a few:

  1. Merger between Cotiviti and Verscend Technologies:

Except in each case, as has not had and would not reasonably be expected to have, individually or in the aggregate, a Company Material Adverse Effect, to the Knowledge of the Company, (i) no allegations of sexual harassment have been made against (A) any officer or director of the Acquired Companies or (B) any employee of the Acquired Companies who, directly or indirectly, supervises at least eight (8) other employees of the Acquired Companies, and (ii) the Acquired Companies have not entered into any settlement agreement related to allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct by an employee, contractor, director, officer or other Representative.

  1. Merger between Genuine Parts Company, Rhino SpinCo, Inc., Essendant Inc., and Elephant Merger Sub Corp.:

To the knowledge of GPC, in the last five (5) years, no allegations of sexual harassment have been made against any current SpinCo Business Employee who is (i) an executive officer or (ii) at the level of Senior Vice President or above.

  1. AGREEMENT AND PLAN OF MERGER BY AND AMONG WORDSTREAM, INC., GANNETT CO., INC., ORCA MERGER SUB, INC. AND SHAREHOLDER REPRESENTATIVE SERVICES LLC:

(i) The Company is not party to a settlement agreement with a current or former officer, employee or independent contractor of the Company or its Affiliates that involves allegations relating to sexual harassment or misconduct. To the Knowledge of the Company, in the last eight (8) years, no allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct have been made against any current or former officer or employee of the Company or its Affiliates.

  1. AGREEMENT AND PLAN OF MERGER By and Among RLJ ENTERTAINMENT, INC., AMC NETWORKS INC., DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT HOLDINGS LLC and RIVER MERGER SUB INC.:

(c) To the Company’s Knowledge, in the last ten (10) years, (i) no allegations of sexual harassment have been made against any officer of the Company or any of its Subsidiaries, and (ii) the Company and its Subsidiaries have not entered into any settlement agreements related to allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct by an officer of the Company or any of its Subsidiaries.

Here are just a few questions:

  1. What's the definition of "sexual misconduct"? Are the companies using a legal definition? Under which law? None of the samples define the term.
  2. What happens of the company handbook or policies do not define "sexual misconduct"?
  3. How do the parties define "sexual harassment"? Are they using Title VII, state law, case law, their diversity training decks,  the employee handbook? None of the samples define the term.
  4. What about the definition of "allegation"? Is this an allegation through formal or informal channels (as employment lawyers would consider it)? Chevron gets high marks here.
  5. Have the target companies used the best knowledge qualifiers to protect themselves?
  6. How will the target company investigate whether the executives and officers have had “allegations”? Should the company lawyers do an investigation of every executive covered by the representation to make sure the company has the requisite “knowledge”? If the deal documents don't define "knowledge," should we impute knowledge?
  7. What about those in the succession plan who may not be in the officer or executives ranks?

Will we see more of these in the future? I don’t know. But I sure hope that General Motors has some protection in place after the most recent allegations against Nikola’s founder and former chairman, who faces sexual assault allegations from his teenage years. Despite allegations of fraud and sexual misconduct, GM appears to be moving forward with the deal, taking advantage of Nikola’s decreased valuation after the revelation of the scandals.

I’ll watch out for these #MeToo clauses in the future. In the meantime, I’ll ask my transactional drafting students to take a crack at reworking them. If you assign these clauses to your students, feel free to send me the work product at mweldon@law.miami.edu.

Take care and stay safe.

October 2, 2020 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Lawyering, M&A, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What Do People Really Think of Insider Trading? Part IV

This is the fourth installment of a multi-part guest blog presenting some of the results of the first comprehensive, large-scale, national survey of public attitudes regarding insider trading. My co-authors (Jeremy Kidd and George Mocsary) and I present the survey’s complete results in our forthcoming article, Public Perceptions of Insider Trading. This installment focuses on the public’s views concerning the ethics of insider trading in different factual scenarios.

The survey presented each respondent with five basic insider-trading scenarios. In each scenario, the inside information pertained to the acquisition of a small company by a larger company. Respondents were placed in the shoes of (1) the CEO of the small firm being acquired by the larger firm; (2) a janitorial employee of the small firm; (3) an outside accountant hired to audit the small firm; (4) the friend of a middle manager of the small firm who learns the inside information at a holiday party; and (5) a stranger who overhears the material nonpublic information in an elevator. The survey instrument randomly directed respondents down multiple question paths for each of these scenarios. I will summarize just some of the results for the CEO scenario in this post, but see here for the complete results.

When asked whether it would be ethical for the CEO of the smaller company to trade in her own company’s shares based on material nonpublic information of the imminent acquisition, 37% said yes. That number increased to 50%, however, when respondents were asked if it would be ethical for the CEO to trade in the larger, acquiring company based on the same information. The 13-point difference may be explained by the fact that the CEO's trading in her own company implicates both the classical and misappropriation prohibitions for insider trading under our current enforcement regime, while trading in the other firm's shares would only implicate the misappropriation theory. Under the classical theory, the harm of insider trading is said to stem from a breach by the insider of a duty to disclose to her company's current or prospective shareholders on the other side of the trade (so this theory would not apply to the trade in the other, large company's shares). Under the misappropriation theory, the harm of insider trading is located in a breach of duty to the source of the information (so in both scenarios the source is the same). The difference in responses therefore suggests there are some respondents whose intuitions align with either the classical theory or the misappropriation theory, but not both.  If all respondents found the classical and misappropriation theories equally compelling, we would not expect a difference.

After providing their initial answers to these scenario-based questions, respondents were then presented with a short piece of propaganda about insider trading. They were offered a statement suggesting either that insider trading has positive, negative, or neutral consequences for markets. The propaganda had a surprising impact. For instance, respondents were much more willing (by a margin of 9%) to condone the CEO’s trading in his own company’s shares (46%) after having been presented with the short propaganda piece. These results suggest that the public’s ethical views concerning even the most straightforward insider-trading scenarios under our current enforcement regime are neither clear nor firm.

(Modified on 9/24/20 at 11:30 am CST)

September 23, 2020 in Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What Do People Really Think of Insider Trading? Part III

This is the third installment of a multi-part guest blog presenting some of the results of the first comprehensive, large-scale, national survey of public attitudes regarding insider trading. My co-authors (Jeremy Kidd and George Mocsary) and I present the survey’s complete results in our forthcoming article, Public Perceptions of Insider Trading. This installment focuses on the public’s views concerning the morality of insider trading.

The survey asked participants (1) whether they would trade on inside information if it came into their possession; (2) whether they believe that insider trading is morally wrong; and (3) whether they believe that insider trading should be illegal. The following table offers a demographic breakdown of the results.

 

Would you trade based on inside info?

Is insider trading morally wrong?

Should insider trading be illegal?

 

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Overall

44.9%

55.1%

62.8%

35.5%

66.7%

33.3%

Gender

Female

45.9%

54.1%

59.4%

39.3%

62.5%

37.5%

Male

43.6%

56.4%

66.7%

31.2%

71.5%

28.5%

Race

Asian

56.1%

43.9%

56.1%

42.4%

62.1%

37.9%

Black

59.0%

41.0%

43.3%

55.1%

45.5%

54.5%

Latinx

61.5%

38.6%

45.8%

51.8%

48.2%

51.8%

Native Am.

66.7%

33.3%

58.3%

41.7%

58.3%

41.7%

White

39.7%

60.2%

68.6%

29.7%

72.6%

27.4%

Other

40.9%

59.1%

59.1%

40.9%

72.7%

27.3%

Trading Status

Invest

51.3%

48.7%

66.5%

31.6%

71.3%

28.7%

Abstain

40.3%

59.7%

59.3%

39.3%

62.4%

37.6%

As expected, a majority of respondents (63%) view insider trading as immoral and 66% think it should be illegal. These numbers are relatively close—at the margin of error for the poll. But the story is more complex when considered in light of responses concerning trading preferences. 18% of respondents said insider trading is immoral but also said they would trade on it—reflecting some cognitive dissonance or a lack of moral clarity. 10% said insider trading is not immoral but also said they would not trade on it--call them cautious abstainers.

We attempted to use these figures to get a clearer sense of respondents’ “true” moral attitudes regarding insider trading. If we take the number who said it is immoral and subtract out those who’s moral clarity is weak, we get 44.2% who have a clear sense that insider trading is wrong. If we take those who would not trade on inside information and subtract those who abstain only out of caution (e.g., fear of prosecution), we get 44.6% who abstain on moral grounds. It is interesting that these two numbers are so close, and this consistency tracks across most demographic subgroups. The numbers suggest that there is a core group of respondents (~44%) who have moral clarity that insider trading is wrong, and who would not trade on inside information for that reason.

The data therefore offers some evidence that the “true” percentage of respondents who believe that insider trading is immoral is probably less than 62%, and could be as low as 44%. See here for a more complete discussion of these and other findings from our survey.

The next installment of this post will share survey responses to a number of scenario-based questions.

September 15, 2020 in Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What Do People Really Think of Insider Trading? Part II

This is the second installment of a multi-part guest blog presenting some of the results of the first comprehensive, large-scale, national survey of public attitudes regarding insider trading. My co-authors (Jeremy Kidd and George Mocsary) and I present the survey’s complete results in our forthcoming article, Public Perceptions of Insider Trading. This installment focuses on some of our results pertaining to the effect of insider trading on the public’s confidence in the integrity of our capital markets.

It turns out that most Americans believe that insider trading is pervasive. The following table breaks down respondents’ answers to the question, “How common do you think insider trading is?”

 

Very Common

Common

Rare

Very Rare

Overall

25.4%

55.0%

15.0%

4.6%

Gender

Female

24.0%

57.0%

14.4%

4.5%

Male

26.8%

52.7%

15.9%

4.6%

Race

Asian

25.8%

51.5%

18.2%

4.5%

Black

41.6%

38.8%

15.2%

4.5%

Latinx

25.3%

55.4%

14.5%

4.8%

Native Am.

25.0%

58.3%

0.0%

16.7%

White

22.3%

58.3%

15.1%

4.3%

Other

22.7%

54.6%

13.6%

9.1%

Trading Status

Invest

30.5%

52.1%

14.4%

3.0%

Abstain

21.5%

56.9%

15.9%

5.7%

           

Approximately 80% of Americans believe insider trading is common or very common. If insider trading’s perceived pervasiveness undermines market confidence, we would expect that those who actually invest in the stock market would be less likely to believe that insider trading is common or very common. But, in fact, the opposite is true: investors are actually slightly more likely (82.6%) to believe insider trading is pervasive than those who abstain from investing in the stock market (78.4%).

Respondents were also asked the following open-ended question with an opportunity to fill in a response: “If you had done your research and found a company that you liked and wanted to invest in, is there anything that might keep you from buying stock in that company?” Notably, despite knowing that the study was about insider trading, only 0.4% indicated that insider trading in the company would deter them from investing in that company. This suggests that, if awareness of insider trading does undermine market confidence, it is not among the public’s principal concerns.

The study did, however, find some support for the market-confidence theory. For example, consider the responses to the following questions that specifically address the market confidence issue:

 

 “If you thought that a small number of people were trading on inside information concerning a company you have been researching, would it make you more likely to buy stock in that company, less likely, or make no difference?”

 

Less

Likely

No Difference

More Likely

Δ Less Likely vs. Market

Overall

48.2%

34.3%

17.5%

+4.9%

“If you knew insider trading was common in the stock market, would you be more likely to invest, less likely, or would it make no difference?”

 

Less

Likely

No Difference

More Likely

Δ Less Likely vs. Company

Overall

43.3%

40.6%

14.9%

-4.9%

While fewer than half of the survey’s participants said that they would be less likely to trade in a given stock (48.2%) or the market generally (43.3%) if they knew insider trading was taking place, these are not trivial numbers. Assuming that some of these respondents who would be less likely to trade do actually abstain from trading for that reason, this offers support for the market confidence justification for the regulation of insider trading. For a full demographic breakdown of the answers to these questions, as well as a table summarizing respondents’ explanations for their responses, see here.

The next installment of this post will explore public perceptions of the morality of insider trading, whether it should be illegal, and what penalties should be imposed.

September 8, 2020 in Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Where Were The Gatekeepers Pt 1- Big Pharma and Operation Warp Speed

I think that the GCs at Big Pharma have hacked into my Zoom account. First, some background. Earlier this week, I asked my students in UM’s Lawyering in a Pandemic course to imagine that they were the compliance officers or GCs at the drug companies involved in Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership formed to find a vaccine for COVID-19 in months, rather than years. I asked the students what they would do if they thought that the scientists were cutting corners to meet the government’s deadlines. Some indicated that they would report it internally and then externally, if necessary.

I hated to burst their bubbles, but I explained that the current administration hasn’t been too welcoming to whistleblowers. I had served on a non-partisan, multi-stakeholder Department of Labor Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee when President Trump came into office, which was disbanded shortly thereafter. For over a year after that, I received calls from concerned scientists asking where they could lodge complaints. With that background, I wanted my students to think about how company executives could reasonably would report on cutting corners to the government that was requiring the “warp speed” results in the first place. We didn’t even get into the potential ethical issues related to lawyers as whistleblowers.

Well the good news is that Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi  announced on Friday that they have signed a pledge to make sure that they won’t jeopardize public safety by ignoring protocols. Apparently, the FDA may be planning its own statement to reassure the public. I look forward to seeing the statements when they’re released, but these companies have been working on these drugs for months. Better late than never, but why issue this statement now? Perhaps the lawyers and compliance officers – the gatekeepers – were doing their jobs and protecting the shareholders and the stakeholders. Maybe the scientists stood their ground. We will never know how or why the companies made this decision, but I’m glad they did. The companies hadn’t announced this safety pledge yet when I had my class and at the time, almost none of the students said they would get the vaccine. Maybe the pledge will change their minds.

Although the drug companies seem to be doing the right thing, I have other questions about Kodak. During the same class, I had asked my students to imagine that they were the GC, compliance officer, or board member at Kodak. Of course, some of my students probably didn’t even know what Kodak is because they take pictures with their phones. They don’t remember Kodak for film and cameras and absolutely no one knows Kodak as a pharmaceutical company. Perhaps that’s why everyone was stunned when Kodak announced a $765 million federal loan to start producing drug ingredients, especially because it’s so far outside the scope of its business. After all, the company makes chemicals for film development and manufacturing but not for life saving drugs. Kodak has struggled over the past few years because it missed the boat on digital cameras and has significant debt, filing for bankruptcy in 2012. It even dabbled in cryptocurrency for a few months in 2018. Not the first choice to help develop a vaccine.

To be charitable, Kodak did own a pharmaceutical company for a few years in the 80’s. But its most recent 10-K states that “Kodak is a global technology company focused on print and advanced materials and chemicals. Kodak provides industry-leading hardware, software, consumables and services primarily to customers in commercial print, packaging, publishing, manufacturing and entertainment.” 

The Kodak deal became even more newsworthy because the company issued 1.75 million in stock and options to the CEO and other grants to company insiders and board members before the public announcement of the federal loan. The CEO had only had the job for a year. I haven’t seen any news reports of insiders complaining or refusing the grants. In fact, the day after the announcement of the loan, a Kodak board member made a $116 million dollar donation to charity he founded. Understandably, the news of the deal caused Kodak’s shares to soar. Insiders profited, and the SEC started asking questions after looking at records of the stock trades.

Alas, the deal is on hold as the SEC investigates. The White House’s own trade advisor has said that this may be “one of the dumbest decisions by executives in corporate history.” I’m not sure about that, but there actually may be nothing to see here. Some believe that there was a snafu with the timing of the announcement and that the nuances of Reg FD may get Kodak off the hook .I wonder though, what the gatekeepers were doing? Did the GC, compliance officer, or any board member ask the obvious questions? “Why are we doing something so far outside of our core competency?” They didn’t even get the digital camera thing right and that is Kodak’s core competency. Did anyone ask “should we really be issuing options and grants right before the announcement? Isn’t this loan material, nonpublic information and shouldn’t we wait to trade?”

I’ll keep watching the Kodak saga and will report back. In coming posts, I’ll write about other compliance and corporate governance mishaps. In the meantime, stay safe and please wear your masks.


.

September 5, 2020 in Compensation, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

What Do People Really Think of Insider Trading? Part I

This is the first installment of a multi-part guest blog presenting some results of the first comprehensive, large-scale, national survey of public attitudes regarding insider trading. My co-authors (Jeremy Kidd and George Mocsary) and I present the survey’s complete results in our forthcoming article, Public Perceptions of Insider Trading. This installment situates the survey amidst the ongoing debate over the goals of the U.S. insider-trading enforcement regime, and current efforts to reform it. Subsequent installments will share some of the survey results and their implications.

U.S. insider-trading law has been mired in controversy for most of its sixty-year history. Many scholars have argued that restrictions on insider trading should never have been adopted because it is victimless and improves market performance. Others claim that insider trading is unfair, imposes a tax on market participation, and undermines the public’s confidence in our capital markets. Some such critics advocate for broader theories of liability along with stiffer penalties.

Arguments on both sides of this controversy regularly appeal to claims that turn crucially on the public’s actual attitudes concerning insider trading. For example, the recently-published Report of the Bharara Task Force on Insider Trading opens with the declaration that “[m]ost agree that there is something fundamentally unfair about [insider trading].” And in United States v. O’Hagan, Justice Ginsburg averred that “investors would hesitate to venture their capital in a market where [insider trading] is unchecked by law.” Such empirical claims (and their contraries) are rarely backed by data. They therefore amount to little more than speculation. With stiff civil fines and up to 20 years of imprisonment at stake, however, these laws should be based on more than guesswork.

My co-authors and I hope to shed new light on this decades-old debate. Our findings come at a crucial time. Congress may be poised to implement a statutory overhaul of our sixty-year old insider trading regime, with the recent passage of the Insider Trading Prohibition Act in the House with a near-unanimous 410-13 vote. We hope that the survey data will inform these efforts and facilitate intelligent reform.

The survey was administered to a census-representative group (across age, gender, race, and other categories) of 1,313 respondents in April 2019, providing a survey-level margin of error of ±3 percent.

The questions addressed a broad swath of topics covering respondents’ attitudes concerning, inter alia, the pervasiveness of insider trading; how knowledge of widespread insider trading would affect market confidence; whether insider trading is morally wrong, should be illegal, or should be punished; and whether they would personally trade on inside information if they had the opportunity. Some of the results are surprising, and reflect a great deal of ambivalence. For example, what does it mean that nearly a fifth of respondents would engage in insider trading even though they believe it is immoral?

The survey also asked a number of scenario-based questions to test respondents’ intuitions concerning insider trading in a variety of contexts from the boardroom to the cocktail party. Finally, the survey looked to test the firmness of respondents’ views by subjecting them to “propaganda” for and against insider trading, and measuring the extent to which such influence changed their views. The results show a significant change in views after exposure to propaganda, suggesting the public’s views on insider trading are not firmly held.

The next installments to this post will detail some of the survey’s results and point to further empirical research that my co-authors and I plan to undertake.

September 1, 2020 in Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2020

U.S. Securities Crowdfunding: A Way to Economic Inclusion for Low-Income Entrepreneurs in the Wake of COVID-19?

Earlier today, I submitted a book chapter with the same title as this blog post.  The chapter, written for an international management resource on Digital Entrepreneurship and the Sharing Economy, represents part of a project on crowdfunding and poverty that I have been researching and thinking through for a bit over two years now.  My chapter abstract follows:

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and created economic hardship all over the world.  The United States is no exception.  Among other things, the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis deepen pre-existing concerns about financing U.S. businesses formed and promoted by entrepreneurs of modest means.

In May 2016, a U.S. federal registration exemption for crowdfunded securities offerings came into existence (under the CROWDFUND Act) as a means of helping start-ups and small businesses obtain funding.  In theory, this regime was an attempt to fill gaps in U.S. securities law that handicapped entrepreneurs and their promoters from obtaining equity, debt, and other financing through the sale of financial investment instruments over the Internet.  The use of the Internet for business finance is particularly important to U.S. entrepreneurs who may not have access to funding because of their own limited financial and economic positions. 

As the pandemic continues and the fifth year of effectiveness of the CROWDFUND Act progresses, observations can be made about the role securities crowdfunding has played and may play in sustaining and improving prospects for those limited means entrepreneurs.  A preliminary examination indicates that, under current legal rules, securities crowdfunding is a promising, yet less-than-optimal, financing vehicle for these entrepreneurs.  Nevertheless, there are ways in which U.S. securities crowdfunding may be used or modified to play a more positive role in promoting economic inclusion through capital raising for the innovative ventures of financially disadvantaged entrepreneurs and promoters.

I value the opportunity to contribute to this book with scholars from a number of research disciplines and countries.  I have been looking for ways to concretize some of my ideas from this project in a series of shorter publications, and this project seems like a good fit.  Nevertheless, I admit that I have been finding it challenging to segment out and organize my ideas about how securities crowdfunding may better serve entrepreneurs and investors, especially in the current economic downturn.  As always, your ideas are welcomed.

July 13, 2020 in Books, Corporate Finance, Crowdfunding, Entrepreneurship, International Business, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 1, 2020

2021 AALS Annual Meeting - Section on Securities Regulation Calls for Papers

The AALS Section on Securities Regulation distributed two calls for papers earlier today.
Both are included below.

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AALS Call for Papers:
What Can Securities Regulation Contribute to
Environmental Law, and Vice Versa?

The AALS Sections on Environmental Law and Securities Regulation are delighted to present a joint session at the 2021 AALS Annual Meeting, titled “What Can Securities Regulation Contribute to Environmental Law, and Vice Versa?” We are awaiting final scheduling information from AALS, but we anticipate receiving a three-hour joint program slot. We are planning an innovative format that will include short (5-7 minute) paper presentations in plenary session, followed by collaboration in “table discussion” groups.

The political vicissitudes of environmental policy in recent years have led to increased focus on the potential of private mechanisms to achieve environmental results that had traditionally been sought by government action. At the same time, investors and market regulators have become increasingly aware of the need for corporations to grapple with environmental risks, particularly with respect to global climate disruption.

This joint session will bring together leading scholars from the fields of environmental and securities law to discuss the reciprocal influences that environmental and securities law exert on each other, including a discussion of the following questions: How do the goals of securities regulation intersect with environmental policy? Are the securities laws an effective means of advancing environmental policy? What are the regulatory implications, both for securities regulation and environmental law, of this intersection? What are innovative investors and companies doing in response to the risks of climate change?

We invite papers that explore these questions from a diversity of perspectives, both theoretical and applied. The authors of the selected papers will present short, TED-style talks at the 2021 Annual Meeting and engage in dialogue with each other and attendees about the ideas presented.

By August 15, 2020, please send your submission to Professor Steve Gold at stgold@law.rutgers.edu and Professor Wendy Couture at wgcouture@uidaho.edu. We welcome submissions at any stage of development, although preference may be given to more fully developed papers over abstracts and paper proposals. The authors of the selected papers will be notified by September 15, 2020. 

The Call for Paper presenters will be responsible for paying their registration fee and travel expenses.  Please note that AALS anticipates that the Annual Meeting will proceed in person as planned in San Francisco, (https://am.aals.org/), and the theme is The Power of Words.

AALS Call for Papers:
Emerging Voices in Securities Regulation

The AALS Section on Securities Regulation is delighted to bring together junior and senior securities regulation scholars for the purpose of providing junior scholars feedback on their scholarship and helping them prepare their work for submission for publication. Junior scholars’ presentations of their drafts will be followed by comments from senior scholars and further audience discussion.

If you would like to present your draft as a junior scholar, by August 15, 2020, please send your draft to Professor Wendy Couture at wgcouture@uidaho.edu. We welcome submissions at any stage of development, although preference may be given to more fully developed papers over abstracts and paper proposals. The authors of the selected papers will be notified by September 15, 2020. 

If you would like to volunteer to provide feedback as a more senior scholar, please let Professor Couture know, at wgcouture@uidaho.edu, by August 15, 2020. Thank you in advance for your generosity.

The Call for Paper presenters will be responsible for paying their registration fee and travel expenses.  Please note that AALS anticipates that the Annual Meeting will proceed in person as planned in San Francisco, (https://am.aals.org/), and the theme is The Power of Words.

June 1, 2020 in Call for Papers, Conferences, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Shifting Investment Advice Standards

As the weeks pass, we move steadily closer and closer to the June 30th implementation date for Regulation Best Interest.  As I've written elsewhere, the new SEC rule does little actually help investors.  The new rule package may also do real harm by collapsing distinctions between brokerage firms and independent registered investment advisers.  In the headline quote for a new white paper from the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard, Professor Tamar Frankel explains how the new package erodes established fiduciary principles

Rostad and Fogarty tell the story that these standards deserve attention because they abandon decades of established principles. They then offer selected remedies to help investors manage in this new era. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation Best Interest ignores the brokers’ advisory sales-talk and waters-down significantly brokers’ fiduciary duties. In fact little remains. Hopefully, this rule will fail to achieve its purpose or is fixed before it brings true disasters on the securities markets. Otherwise, investors and the securities markets may pay the price.

As the SEC has altered investor protections, states have begun to put their own protections in place.  Nevada stands alone with the first state fiduciary statute.   New Jersey and Massachusetts also have proposed regulations.

Yet these regulations will not arrive before Regulation Best Interest goes into effect. At present, New Jersey has delayed its rule process. New Jersey's initial proposal broke with the SEC on an important point.  It doesn't rely on disclosure to completely sanitize conflicts.  Rather, the New Jersey proposal included a provision that "there is no presumption that disclosing a conflict of interest in and of itself will satisfy the duty of loyalty."  

At present, I wouldn't expect the SEC to delay implementation of Regulation Best Interest. The brokerage industry isn't likely to seriously push for any delay because it would be like a child asking to delay Christmas.  As Regulation Best Interest goes into effect, brokerages get the ability to market themselves as acting in their customers' best interests while still operating with the same conflicts.  Be on the lookout for new advertising campaigns featuring "best interest" language.  Few, if any, customers will actually read the fine print.

But financial adviser ads will continue to roll.  With almost all other businesses shuttered and advertising prices plummeting, expect to see more ads from groups like the CFP board on television.   After Regulation Best Interest goes into effect, they will all tell you that they'll act in your best interest.  Sorting out what they actually will do once they have your money will be more of a challenge.

 

April 16, 2020 in Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 9, 2020

New Paper: Congressional Securities Trading

Iowa's Greg Shill has a new paper out on Congressional Securities Trading.  As a former congressional staffer, he brings a special appreciation to the issue.

Congressional securities trading has attracted a good bit of attention after controversial trades by Senators Burr and Loeffler.  The scrutiny has even drawn more attention to another surprisingly well-timed trade by Senator Burr.

In his essay, Shill takes up the issue from a policy perspective, looking at how we ought to regulate Congressional Securities Trading.  He draws from ordinary securities regulation and suggest pulling over the trading plan approach and short-swing profit prohibition we use for corporate executives.  This approach should help manage ordinary securities transactions by members of Congress and their staff.  He also advocates for limiting Congressional investing to U.S. index funds and treasuries.  This would reduce the incentive to favor one market participant over another.

The proposed reforms would be a substantial improvement over the status quo.  We should not have legislators with significant financial incentives to favor one company over another when making law and setting policy.  We should also not subsidize public service by tolerating Congressional trading on Congressional information.

Of course, we'll still face some implementation challenges.  When and how would we require newly-elected and currently-serving officials to liquidate existing portfolios?  What kinds of exceptions would we make for private-company investments where no ready, liquid market exists?  These implementation challenges strike me as mild compared to the benefits.

And Congressional adoption of the proposal would certainly yield substantial benefits.  Although difficult to quantify, two broad benefits seem clear. First, adopting the proposal would generally increase confidence in government's integrity.  As we're seeing with the pandemic, public trust in public officials can shift how society responds in times of collective crisis.  

Allowing federal officials to trade securities generates real harm, confusion, and suspicion.  Consider the hubbub over Trump's indirect ownership of a tiny stake in drug-maker Sanofi.  Some have seized on the small, indirect interest to contend that he now hypes a particular drug for personal gain.  A public-trust-focused regime limiting all elected officials to only broad index funds and U.S. Treasuries would likely cut down on the fear that officials recommend particular things to the public because of their economic interests.  To be clear, it strikes me as extremely unlikely that the President now hypes the drug because of his minuscule ownership stake.  The much likelier explanation is simply disordered magical thinking.

Many politicians have been targeted by similar attacks. This particular type of ill-informed charge has also been leveled at Senator Elizabeth Warren.  One deeply misleading headline claimed she "invested in private prisons" before going on to explain that she owned a Vanguard index fund.  It would be better to remove this line of attack entirely by sharply limiting the ways public officials invest.

Limiting Congressional ownership would also advance another vital national interest by increasing confidence in American securities markets.  Our ability to attract capital and move it from investors to the real economy depends on confidence in the system.  If investors fear that Congressional insiders have a leg up, they may not be as likely to participate in our markets.

As Congress considers how to regulate on these issues in the future, it should pay close attention to Shill's recommendations.

April 9, 2020 in Financial Markets, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Pandemic Puppy & Reg BI Changes to Suitability Standards

Although this is a little off-brand for the BLPB, I thought readers might appreciate a puppy break.  This is Lucky, the newest addition to the family.

RenderedImage

She's excellent at giving me so much to worry about that I stop thinking about the pandemic!  But that does not mean that stuff stops happening!

Notably, FINRA has a rule proposal out to alter its exiting suitability standard in light of the SEC's new Regulation Best Interest. FINRA summarized the proposal as doing two things:

  1. amend the FINRA and CAB suitability rules to state that the rules do not apply to recommendations subject to Regulation Best Interest (“Reg BI”), and to remove the element of control from the quantitative suitability obligation; and
  2. conform the rules governing non-cash compensation to Reg BI’s limitations on sales contests, sales quotas, bonuses and non-cash compensation.

Because Reg BI so closely resembles the FINRA Suitability Rule, firms may not have to do too much to comply with the text of the rule.  This leaves me wondering about guidance.  FINRA has many notices to members and other explanations available to give context to the suitability rule.  With regulation moving from the self-regulator to the regulator, will the guidance move as well and will it have the same force?  This may be unknowable because so many customer issues get resolved in arbitrations without explained decisions.

What will happen in the future when FINRA has to manage compliance or enforcement for activity covered by Reg BI?  In the past, FINRA could simply determine what its own rules meant.  Now, new issues may need to be addressed by the SEC instead.  FINRA may still simply opt to apply Rule 2110 for conduct it would have deemed over the line under the suitability standard.  Essentially, it's a catch-all for requiring all members to "observe high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principles of trade."  

Regulation Best Interest is now set to go into effect this July.  Whether the date will get bumped back remains uncertain.  Financial Planning has reported that the SEC is now mulling whether to extend the deadline.  My bet is that the SEC will probably extend the deadline event though there probably isn't much of a need to because it didn't seem as though Reg BI actually required any major changes to most firms' business practices.

March 27, 2020 in Compliance, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 9, 2020

Curiosity and Skepticism Make Me Want To Read This Article . . . .

Friend of the BLPB and fellow crowdfunding researcher Andrew Schwartz recently posted this article on SSRN: Mandatory Disclosure in Primary Markets, 2019 Utah L. Rev. 1069.  I was provoked by the abstract, which reads as follows:

Mandatory disclosure—the idea that companies must be legally required to disclose certain, specified information to public investors—is the first principle of modern securities law. Despite the high costs it imposes, mandatory disclosure has been well defended by legal scholars on two theoretical grounds: ‘Agency costs’ and ‘information underproduction.’ While these two concepts are a good fit for secondary markets (where investors trade securities with one another), this Article shows that they are largely irrelevant in the context of primary markets (where companies offer securities directly to investors). The surprising result is that primary offerings—such as an IPO—may not require mandatory disclosure at all. This profound insight calls into question the fundamental premises of the Securities Act of 1933 and similar laws governing primary offerings around the world. Reform of these rules could lead to a new age of simplified, low-cost primary offerings to the public, something that is already happening in New Zealand through its equity crowdfunding market.

As someone who believes that federal law should provide an exemption for small crowdfunded offerings (although current rule-making proposals instead look to ratchet up the aggregate offering prices for the federal crowdfunding exemption) with lighter mandatory disclosure obligations than those provided for under Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act and Regulation Crowdfunding, I found myself very curious about Andrew's paper.  So, I skimmed it (since I do not have time to read it in full at the moment).  I am glad to see that the article raises a distinction worth more exploration in the mandatory disclosure space--that between primary and secondary offerings.  But I admit to some skepticism about the overall thesis as to the lack of value of mandatory disclosure in primary offerings.  I hope a thorough review of the paper will provide important information and analyses.  

As the abstract and a recent post on the article on The CLS Blue Sky Blog indicate, the paper highlights for attention two of the theoretical values of mandatory disclosure for examination: its positive effects on agency costs and on information underproduction.  Given those ostensible focuses, here are a few things I will be looking for as I read:

  • An articulation of the different types of agency costs associated with initial public offerings (IPOs) and other primary offerings (as evidenced in the literature) and their relationship to mandatory disclosure obligations, as well as observations on the effects of mandatory and voluntary disclosure on those agency costs;
  • A rationale for why other theories supporting mandatory disclosure regulation are seemingly marginalized or omitted in the paper, including (1) standardization to facilitate investor comparisons and contrasts (which it seems is mentioned in a few footnotes) and (2) efficient capital market theory applications in the IPO disclosure context (including, perhaps, those impacting observed underpricing/overpricing market effects); and
  • An explanation of the role, if any, of investor sophistication and information access (which, together with mandatory disclosure, have framed analyses of the value of mandatory disclosure since the Court's Ralston Purina decision more than 65 years ago) in the article's analyses and overall thesis.

By quick inspection, it appears that the agency costs addressed are restricted to those borne of a manager-shareholder relationship that relies on a somewhat legalistic, rather than economic, concept of agency that would arise only after investors in the market purchase shares of corporate stock in an offering and become shareholders.  I wonder about the role of managers and others as promoters of the offering . . . .  Standardization is at least mentioned in a few places.  And as to the third bullet point, it looks like the answer the paper proffers is that institutional investors will drive significant voluntary disclosure to be made to all in a manner that gets information to the market efficiently.  If that is the argument, I look forward to seeing the evidence.  

So, I am curious, but I remain skeptical.  I am reserving judgment until I read the article in its entirety!  Regardless, this work has my attention, for sure.  Let me know if you have read it and, if so, what your reactions are.  Andrew also may want to comment.

Independent of the mandatory disclosure arguments, I know that I will enjoy reading about New Zealand's crowdfunding experience.  I do find comparative regulatory work like this very enlightening.  I appreciate Andrew adding that to the mix, too.

March 9, 2020 in Corporate Finance, Crowdfunding, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sharfman on Exemptions from the Proxy Rules for Proxy Voting Advice

The following comes to us from Bernard S. Sharfman. It is a copy of the comment letter (without footnotes) that he recently sent to the SEC in support of the Amendments to Exemptions from the Proxy Rules for Proxy Voting Advice.  (The comment letter with footnotes can be found here.)  An introductory excerpt is followed, after the break, by the full letter. Please excuse any formatting errors generated by my poor copy-and-paste skills.

Part I of this letter will describe the collective action problem that is at the heart of shareholder voting. Part II will discuss the problems that this collective action causes for the voting recommendations of proxy advisors, including the creation of a resource constrained business environment. Part III discusses how proxy advisors deal with such a business environment. Part IV will discuss how the market for voting recommendations is an example of a market failure, requiring the SEC to pursue regulatory action to mitigate the harm caused by two significant negative externalities. Part V will discuss how the collective action problem of shareholder voting and the market failure impacts corporate governance. Part VI will discuss the value of the proposed amendments.

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January 15, 2020 in Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Securities Regulation, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Did A Child Die to Make Your Smartphone, Tablet, Laptop, or Car?

Happy holidays! Billions of people around the world are celebrating Christmas or Hanukah right now. Perhaps you’re even reading this post on a brand new Apple Ipad, a Microsoft Surface, or a Dell Computer. Maybe you found this post via a Google search. If you use a product manufactured by any of those companies or drive a Tesla, then this post is for you. Last week, a nonprofit organization filed the first lawsuit against the world’s biggest tech companies alleging that they are complicit in child trafficking and deaths in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dodd-Frank §1502 and the upcoming EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, which goes into effect in 2021, both require companies to disclose the efforts they have made to track and trace "conflict minerals" -- tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold from the DRC and surrounding countries. DRC is one of the poorest nations in the world per capita but has an estimated $25 trillion in mineral reserves (including 65% of the world's cobalt). Armed militia use rape and violence as a weapon of war in part so that they control the mineral wealth. The EU and US regulators believe that consumers might make different purchasing decisions if they  knew whether companies source their minerals ethically. The EU legislation, notably, does not limit the geography to the DRC, but instead focuses on conflict zones around the world.

If you’ve read my posts before, then you know that I have written repeatedly about the DRC and conflict minerals. After visiting DRC for a research trip in 2011, I wrote a law review article and co-filed an amicus brief during the §1502 litigation arguing that the law would not help people on the ground. I have also blogged here about legislation to end the rulehere about the EU's version of the rule, and here about the differences between the EU and US rule. Because of the law and pressure from activists and socially-responsible investors, companies, including the defendants, have filed disclosures, joined voluntary task forces to clean up supply chains, and responded to shareholder proposals regarding conflict minerals for years. I will have more on those initiatives in my next post. Interestingly, cobalt, the subject of the new litigation, is not a “conflict mineral” under either the U.S. or E.U. regulation, although, based on the rationale behind enacting Dodd-Frank §1502, perhaps it should have been.  Nonetheless, in all of my research, I never came across any legislative history or materials discussing why cobalt was excluded.

The litigation makes some startling claims, but having been to the DRC, I’m not surprised. I’ve seen children who should have been in school, but could not afford to attend, digging for minerals with shovels and panning for gold in rivers. Although I was not allowed in the mines during my visit because of a massacre in the village the night before, I could still see child laborers on the side of the road mining. If you think mining is dangerous here in the U.S., imagine what it’s like in a poor country with a corrupt government dependent on income from multinationals.

The seventy-nine page class action Complaint was filed filed in federal court in the District of Columbia on behalf of thirteen children claiming: (1) a violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; (2) unjust enrichment; (3) negligent supervision; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress. I’ve listed some excerpts from the Complaint below (hyperlinks added):

Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla are knowingly benefiting from and providing substantial support to this “artisanal” mining system in the DRC. Defendants know and have known for a significant period of time the reality that DRC’s cobalt mining sector is dependent upon children, with males performing the most hazardous work in the primitive cobalt mines, including tunnel digging. These boys are working under stone age conditions for paltry wages and at immense personal risk to provide cobalt that is essential to the so-called “high tech” sector, dominated by Defendants and other companies. For the avoidance of doubt, every smartphone, tablet, laptop, electric vehicle, or other device containing a lithium-ion rechargeable battery requires cobalt in order to recharge. Put simply, the hundreds of billions of dollars generated by the Defendants each year would not be possible without cobalt mined in the DRC….

Plaintiffs herein are representative of the child cobalt miners, some as young as six years of age, who work in exceedingly harsh, hazardous, and toxic conditions that are on the extreme end of “the worst forms of child labor” prohibited by ILO Convention No. 182. Some of the child miners are also trafficked. Plaintiffs and the other child miners producing cobalt for Defendants Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla typically earn 2-3 U.S. dollars per day and, remarkably, in many cases even less than that, as they perform backbreaking and hazardous work that will likely kill or maim them. Based on indisputable research, cobalt mined in the DRC is listed on the U.S. Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau’s List of Goods Produced with Forced and Child Labor.

When I mentioned above that I wasn’t surprised about the allegations, I mean that I wasn’t surprised that the injuries and deaths occur based on what I saw during my visit to DRC. I am surprised that companies that must perform due diligence in their supply chains for conflict minerals don’t perform the same kind of due diligence in the cobalt mines. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised at all, given how many companies have stated that they cannot be sure of the origins of their minerals. In my next post, I will discuss what the companies say they are doing, what they are actually doing, and how the market has reacted to the litigation. What I do know for sure is that the Apple store at the mall nearest to me was so crowded that people could not get in. The mall also has a Tesla showroom and people were gearing up for test drives. Does that mean that consumers are not aware of the allegations? Or does that mean that they don’t care?  I’ll discuss that in the next post as well.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season.

December 24, 2019 in Compliance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Litigation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)