Friday, October 15, 2021
Can "hypermaterial" public information about a stock render the company's (once material) nonpublic internal data immaterial? Consider the following scenario involving social-media-driven trading in a meme stock:
XYZ Corporation’s stock price had been falling over the last month (from a high of $12 down to $10), due to a short-sale attack by a small group of hedge funds. In the past week, a group of individuals in a social media chatroom have attempted a now well-publicized short squeeze, motivated by a desire to punish what they view as predatory behavior by the hedge funds. As a result, the stock price has been driven up to $300, significantly above where the stock was trading before the short-sale attack. The company's nonpublic data (earnings, etc.) that will be reported next week reflects the "true" price of the company's shares should be $8. With knowledge of the above public and nonpblic information, XYZ and some of its insiders issue/sell XYZ shares.
Has XYZ and its insiders committed insider trading in violation of the antifraud provisions of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act?
Insider trading liability arises under the classical theory when the issuer, its employee, or an affiliate seeks to benefit from trading (or tipping others who trade) that firm’s shares based on material nonpublic information. In such cases, the insider (or constructive insider) violates a fiduciary or other similar duty of trust and confidence by failing to disclose the information to the firm’s shareholder (or prospective shareholder) on the other side of the trade.
In Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224, 231-2 (1988), the Supreme Court has held that information is “material” for purposes of insider trading liability if “there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable shareholder would consider it important” in making an investment decision, and there is a “substantial likelihood that the disclosure of the omitted fact would have been viewed by the reasonable investor as having significantly altered the ‘total mix’ of information made available.”
Prior to the onset of the social-media-driven trading, I think it's pretty clear that the insiders' nonpublic information that the company's stock (currently trading at $10) is actually worth $8 is material. In other words, there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable shareholder would consider important information that a stock trading at $10 is actually worth $8. But is that same information still material after the social-media-driven trading has pushed the stock's price to $300?
In our forthcoming article, Expressive Trading, Hypermateriality, and Insider Trading, my coauthors Jeremy Kidd, George A. Mocsary, and I argue that once material nonpublic internal data can be drowned out (and be rendered immaterial) by subsequent hypermaterial public information like a dramatic price movement resulting from a well-publicized social-media-driven run on a stock.
If the issuer's and insiders' nonpublic information about the firm is immaterial, then they may trade while in possession of it without violating the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws. We welcome your comments! Here's the abstract:
The phenomenon of social-media-driven trading (SMD trading) entered the public consciousness earlier this year when GameStop’s stock price was driven up two orders of magnitude by a “hivemind” of individual investors coordinating their actions via social media. Some believe that GameStop’s price is artificially high and is destined to fall. Yet the stock prices of GameStop and other prominent SMD trading targets like AMC Entertainment continue to remain well above historical levels.
Much recent SMD trading is driven by profit motives. But a meaningful part of the rise has been a result of expressive trading—a subset of SMD trading—in which investors buy or sell for non-profit-seeking reasons like social or political activism, or for aesthetic reasons like a nostalgia play. To date, expressive trading has only benefited issuers by raising their stock prices. There is nothing, however, to prevent these traders from employing similar methods for driving a target’s stock price down (e.g., to influence or extort certain behaviors from issuers).
At least for now, stock prices raised by SMD trading have been sticky and appear at least moderately sustainable. The expressive aspect, which unites the traders under a common banner, is likely a reason that dramatic price increases resulting from profit-seeking SMD trading have persisted. Without a nonfinancial motivation to hold the group together, its members would be expected to defect and take profits.
Given that SMD trading appears to be more than a passing fad, issuers and their compliance departments ought to be prepared to respond when targeted by SMD trading. A question that might arise is whether and when SMD-trading-targeted issuers, and their insiders, may trade in their firms’ shares without running afoul of insider trading laws.
This Article proceeds as follows: Part I summarizes the current state of insider trading law, with special focus on the elements of materiality and publicity. Part II opens with a brief summary of the filing, disclosure, and other (non-insider-trading-related) requirements issuers and their insiders may face when trading in their own company’s shares under any circumstance. The remainder of this Part analyzes the insider trading-related legal implications of three different scenarios in which issuers and their insiders trade in their own company’s shares in response to SMD trading. The analysis reveals that although the issuer’s and insiders’ nonpublic internal information may be material (and therefore preclude their legal trading) prior to and just after the onset of third-party SMD trading in the company’s stock, subsequent SMD price changes (if sufficiently dramatic) may diminish the importance of the company’s nonpublic information, rendering it immaterial. If the issuer’s and insiders’ nonpublic information about the firm is immaterial, then they may trade while in possession of it without violating the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws.
Friday, October 1, 2021
Insider trading reform has been a consistent theme in my last few posts (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). In keeping with this theme, I’d like to highlight a new article, How Creepy Concepts Undermine Effective Insider Trading Reform, which was posted just yesterday by Professor Kevin R. Douglas (Michigan State College of Law). Professor Douglas is an important new voice in the areas of securities regulation, corporate finance, and business law more generally. Here’s the abstract:
Lawmakers are building momentum towards codifying our insider trading laws to clarify which kind of trading is illegal. In May 2021, the US House of Representatives passed the Insider Trading Prohibition Act for the second time in two years. In January 2020, a Securities and Exchange Commission sponsored task force on insider trading released a report containing proposed legislation. Both the House Bill and the task force proposal would prohibit trading while in possession of “wrongfully obtained” information and prohibit trades that involve a “wrongful use” of information. This article explains why the concept of “wrongful” trading is too ambiguous to improve insider trading law and explores the requirements of effective legislative reform.
For decades, scholars have described insider trading doctrine as mystifying and called for reform. Many explain the confusion by pointing to the stark difference in how enforcement officials and federal courts apply insider trading law. Others argue that the confusion is caused by policymakers failing to choose between fostering efficient markets and fostering fair or equitable markets. This article argues that the conflict between courts and enforcement officials is a symptom of two deeper conceptual problems—one at the doctrinal level and one at the policy level. The doctrinal confusion is more precisely caused by the attempt to simultaneously invoke two conflicting concepts of “fairness.” Fairness meaning consensual transactions, versus fairness meaning transactions in which all parties enjoy equal access to all material information and other economic values. Attempting to simultaneously apply these mutually exclusive notions of fairness has caused a slow and inconsistent conceptual creep, resulting in an incoherent doctrine.
The policy confusion is caused by officials relying on economic models that use misidentified theories of “economic efficiency.” Officials describe the policy goal of our insider trading regime as encouraging capital formation in US securities markets and economic growth in general. These goals imply an exclusive commitment to promoting “allocational efficiency”—or maximizing wealth. However, scholars usually rely on the concept of “market efficiency” when evaluating the law and practice of insider trading. The definition of market efficiency relies on assumptions that embody an unacknowledged focus on economic distribution—equalizing wealth. This includes the assumptions that all investors (1) trade at the same price (the correct price) and (2) have equal access to all available information. Conflating these forms of efficiency causes officials to unintentionally oscillate between promoting opaque distribution goals and promoting economic growth.
This article recommends clarifying insider trading law by prioritizing one of the two conflicting fairness doctrines and a compatible policy goal. Clarity requires specifying whether consent is a defense against insider trading liability. Enforcing only one fairness doctrine gives everyone the option of attempting to privately adhere to both principles while successfully applying one of the principles through law.
Friday, September 24, 2021
I'm so excited to present later this morning at the University of Tennessee College of Law Connecting the Threads Conference today at 10:45 EST. Here's the abstract from my presentation. In future posts, I will dive more deeply into some of these issues. These aren't the only ethical traps, of course, but there's only so many things you can talk about in a 45-minute slot.
All lawyers strive to be ethical, but they don’t always know what they don’t know, and this ignorance can lead to ethical lapses or violations. This presentation will discuss ethical pitfalls related to conflicts of interest with individual and organizational clients; investing with clients; dealing with unsophisticated clients and opposing counsel; competence and new technologies; the ever-changing social media landscape; confidentiality; privilege issues for in-house counsel; and cross-border issues. Although any of the topics listed above could constitute an entire CLE session, this program will provide a high-level overview and review of the ethical issues that business lawyers face.
Specifically, this interactive session will discuss issues related to ABA Model Rules 1.5 (fees), 1.6 (confidentiality), 1.7 (conflicts of interest), 1.8 (prohibited transactions with a client), 1.10 (imputed conflicts of interest), 1.13 (organizational clients), 4.3 (dealing with an unrepresented person), 7.1 (communications about a lawyer’s services), 8.3 (reporting professional misconduct); and 8.4 (dishonesty, fraud, deceit).
Discussion topics will include:
- Do lawyers have an ethical duty to take care of their wellbeing? Can a person with a substance use disorder or major mental health issue ethically represent their client? When can and should an impaired lawyer withdraw? When should a lawyer report a colleague?
- What ethical obligations arise when serving on a nonprofit board of directors? Can a board member draft organizational documents or advise the organization? What potential conflicts of interest can occur?
- What level of technology competence does an attorney need? What level of competence do attorneys need to advise on technology or emerging legal issues such as SPACs and cryptocurrencies? Is attending a CLE or law school course enough?
- What duties do lawyers have to educate themselves and advise clients on controversial issues such as business and human rights or ESG? Is every business lawyer now an ESG lawyer?
- What ethical rules apply when an in-house lawyer plays both a legal role and a business role in the same matter or organization? When can a lawyer representing a company provide legal advice to an employee?
- With remote investigations, due diligence, hearings, and mediations here to stay, how have professional duties changed in the virtual world? What guidance can we get from ABA Formal Opinion 498 issued in March 2021? How do you protect confidential information and also supervise others remotely?
- What social media practices run afoul of ethical rules and why? How have things changed with the explosion of lawyers on Instagram and TikTok?
- What can and should a lawyer do when dealing with a businessperson on the other side of the deal who is not represented by counsel or who is represented by unsophisticated counsel?
- When should lawyers barter with or take an equity stake in a client? How does a lawyer properly disclose potential conflicts?
- What are potential gaps in attorney-client privilege protection when dealing with cross-border issues?
If you need some ethics CLE, please join in me and my co-bloggers, who will be discussing their scholarship. In case Joan Heminway's post from yesterday wasn't enough to entice you...
Professor Anderson’s topic is “Insider Trading in Response to Expressive Trading”, based upon his upcoming article for Transactions. He will also address the need for business lawyers to understand the rise in social-media-driven trading (SMD trading) and options available to issuers and their insiders when their stock is targeted by expressive traders.
Professor Baker’s topic is “Paying for Energy Peaks: Learning from Texas' February 2021 Power Crisis.” Professor Baker will provide an overview of the regulation of Texas’ electric power system and the severe outages in February 2021, explaining why Texas is on the forefront of challenges that will grow more prominent as the world transitions to cleaner energy. Next, it explains competing electric power business models and their regulation, including why many had long viewed Texas’ approach as commendable, and why the revealed problems will only grow more pressing. It concludes by suggesting benefits and challenges of these competing approaches and their accompanying regulation.
Professor Heminway’s topic is “Choice of Entity: The Fiscal Sponsorship Alternative to Nonprofit Incorporation.” Professor Heminway will discuss how for many small business projects that qualify for federal income tax treatment under Section 501(a) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, the time and expense of organizing, qualifying, and maintaining a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation may be daunting (or even prohibitive). Yet there would be advantages to entity formation and federal tax qualification that are not available (or not easily available) to unincorporated business projects. Professor Heminway addresses this conundrum by positing a third option—fiscal sponsorship—and articulating its contextual advantages.
Professor Moll’s topic is “An Empirical Analysis of Shareholder Oppression Disputes.” This panel will discuss how the doctrine of shareholder oppression protects minority shareholders in closely held corporations from the improper exercise of majority control, what factors motivate a court to find oppression liability, and what factors motivate a court to reject an oppression claim. Professor Moll will also examine how “oppression” has evolved from a statutory ground for involuntary dissolution to a statutory ground for a wide variety of relief.
Professor Murray’s topic is “Enforcing Benefit Corporation Reporting.” Professor Murray will begin his discussion by focusing on the increasing number of states that have included express punishments in their benefit corporation statutes for reporting failures. Part I summarizes and compares the statutory provisions adopted by various states regarding benefit reporting enforcement. Part II shares original compliance data for states with enforcement provisions and compares their rates to the states in the previous benefit reporting studies. Finally, Part III discusses the substance of the benefit reports and provides law and governance suggestions for improving social benefit.
All of this and more from the comfort of your own home. Hope to see you on Zoom today and next year in person at the beautiful UT campus.
September 24, 2021 in Colleen Baker, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Delaware, Ethics, Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, Human Rights, International Business, Joan Heminway, John Anderson, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Litigation, M&A, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 17, 2021
The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Chairman, Gary Gensler, recently directed the staff to present recommendations to "freshen up" and tighten some provisions in Exchange Act Rule 10b5-1. In response, the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee proposed new restrictions on the use of 10b5-1(c) trading plans as an affirmative defense against insider trading liability. The proposed changes are designed to address concerns that "some plans are used to engage in opportunistic trading behavior that contravenes the intent behind the rule," and they are consistent with recommendations outlined in the Promoting Transparent Standards for Corporate Insiders Act that passed the House of Representatives in April 2021.
But any proposed restrictions to trading plans must be considered in light of the broader context of Rule 10b5-1, and the motivation behind the affirmative defense’s adoption.
The courts have interpreted Section 10b of the 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 intent for insider trading liability can be difficult for regulators and prosecutors to satisfy because insiders who possess material nonpublic information at the time of their trade can often claim that they did not use the information to trade. They may claim, for example, that they only sold stock to pay their child’s college tuition bill, and the material nonpublic information had nothing to do with the trade.
Prior to 2000, the SEC and prosecutors sought to defeat this defense strategy by taking the position that knowing possession of material nonpublic information while trading satisfies the “on the basis of” element of insider trading liability. But when pressed, this strategy met with only mixed results in the courts. In an attempt to settle a circuit split over this “use-versus-possession” issue, the SEC adopted 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.
The SEC anticipated two problems for its new awareness test: (1) It anticipated concern from the courts that imposing liability on a person who is merely aware of material nonpublic information while trading (without a causal relation between the information and the trade) would exceed the commission’s statutory authority by failing to satisfy the requirement of scienter under the general antifraud provisions of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act. (2) There was also a concern that the broad awareness test may chill legitimate trading by insiders (e.g., for portfolio diversification), which would negatively impact the value of firm shares as a form of compensation. The 10b5-1 trading plan as an affirmative defense to insider trading liability was designed to mitigate these concerns.
Now, the SEC is considering significant new restrictions on the use of trading plans that include (a) a “cooling off” period of at least four months between plan adoption and trading or modification; (b) a prohibition on overlapping plans; and (c) new disclosure requirements.
In two recent articles, Anticipating a Sea Change for Insider Trading Law: From Trading Plan Crisis to Rational Reform and Undoing a Deal with the Devil: Some Challenges for Congress's Proposed Reform of Insider Trading Plans, I argue that additional restrictions on trading plan use like those being proposed by the SEC risk defeating the very purposes for which the affirmative defense was adopted. For example, new restrictions on 10b5-1(c) trading plans may force courts to conclude that the SEC exceeded its authority with the adoption of its broad 10b5-1(b) awareness test. Moreover, since new restrictions on trading plans will make it more difficult for employees to sell shares issued to them as equity compensation, those shares will be less valuable to employees. Firms will therefore have to offer more shares to employees to achieve the same remunerative effect. This will impose new costs on shareholders. Will the anticipated benefits of the new restrictions offset these costs?
My hope is that the SEC will take these considerations (and others I have raised) into account as it mulls the question of 10b5-1(c) trading plan reform. After all, the Commission cannot have its cake and eat it too!
Friday, September 3, 2021
I suggested in my last two posts (here and here) that as Congress and the SEC contemplate reforms to our current insider trading regime, it is important for us all to explore our intuitions about what we think insider trading is, why it is wrong, who is harmed by it, and the nature and extent of the harm. If we are going to rethink how we impose criminal and civil penalties for insider trading, we should have some confidence that the proscribed conduct is wrongful and why. One way to do this is to place ourselves in the shoes of traders and ask, “What would I do?” or “What do I think about that?” With this in mind, I developed some scenarios designed to test our attitudes regarding trading scenarios that distinguish the four historical insider trading regimes (laissez faire, fiduciary-fraud, equal access, and parity of information).
In the previous post, I offered a scenario that would result in liability under equal-access and parity-of-information regimes, but not under the fiduciary-fraud and laissez-faire models. Those of you who were not convinced that the trading in that scenario was wrongful may favor one of the less restrictive models.
In today’s post, I offer two scenarios to test our attitudes regarding trading under the fiduciary-fraud model. This model recognizes a duty to disclose material nonpublic information or abstain from trading on it, but only for those who share a recognized fiduciary or similar duty of trust and confidence to either the counterparty to the trade (under the “classical” theory) or the source of the information (under the “misappropriation” theory). The trading in the following scenario would incur liability under the classical theory of the fiduciary-fraud model (as well as under the more restrictive parity-of-information and equal-access models), but not under the misappropriation theory:
A senior VP at BIG Corp., a publicly traded company, took the lead in closing a big deal to merge BIG Corp. with XYZ Corp. The shares of BIG Corp will skyrocket when the deal is announced in seven days. The senior VP asks the CEO and board of Big Corp if he can purchase shares of BIG Corp for his personal account in advance of the announcement. The CEO and board approve the senior VPs trading. The senior VP buys Big Corp. shares in advance of the announcement and he makes huge profits when the deal is announced.
Note the difference between this scenario and the scenario in last week’s post. Here the counterparties to the trade are existing Big Corp shareholders who (if they had the same information as the senior VP) presumably would not have proceeded with the trade at the pre-announcement price. The theory assumes that such trading on the firm’s information (even with board approval) breaches a fiduciary duty of loyalty to the firm’s shareholders (fair assumption?). In last week’s post, the counterparties to the trade were XYZ Corp.’s shareholders, so the board-approved trade did not breach any fiduciary duty. Do you agree that the senior VP’s trading in the scenario above is deceptive, disloyal, or harmful to shareholders? If so, do you think such trading should be subject to civil or criminal sanction (or both)?
The trading in the next scenario would incur liability under the misappropriation theory of the fiduciary-fraud model (as well as under the more restrictive parity-of-information and equal access models), but not under the classical theory:
A senior VP at BIG Corp., a publicly traded company, took the lead in closing a big deal to merge BIG Corp and XYZ Corp. The shares of BIG Corp and XYZ Corp will both skyrocket when the deal is announced in seven days. At the closing party, the CEO and Board of BIG Corp explain to everyone on the deal team that they would like to keep the deal confidential until it is announced to the public the following week. Immediately after the party, the senior VP goes back to his office and buys shares of XYZ Corp for his personal online brokerage account. The senior VP makes huge profits from his purchase of XYZ Corp shares when the deal is announced a week later.
Here the senior VP at BIG Corp. trades in XYZ Corp. shares, so he does not breach any fiduciary duty to his shareholders. Assuming a reasonable person would conclude that a request of confidentiality includes a request not to trade (fair assumption?), the VP’s trading does, however, breach a duty of loyalty to BIG Corp. Is this trading wrongful? If so, is it more/less/equally wrongful by comparison to the trading in the classical scenario above? Finally, if you do think this trading is wrongful, should it be subject to civil or criminal sanction?
Again, the hope is that walking through these scenarios will help bring some clarity to our shared understanding of when trading on material nonpublic information is wrong and harmful—and (given our answers to these questions) the nature and extent to which it should be regulated.
Friday, August 20, 2021
As Congress and the SEC continue to contemplate reforms to the U.S. insider-trading enforcement regime, I suggested in my last post that it is important for us all to explore our intuitions about what we think insider trading is, why it is wrong, who is harmed by it, and the nature and extent of the harm. If we are going to rethink how we impose criminal and civil penalties for insider trading, we should have some confidence that the proscribed conduct is wrongful and why. One way to do this is to place ourselves in the shoes of traders and ask, “What would I do?” or “What do I think about that?” To this end, I have developed some scenarios designed to test our attitudes regarding trading scenarios that distinguish the four historical insider trading regimes (laissez faire, fiduciary-fraud, equal access, and parity of information).
In the last post, I offered a scenario that would result in liability under a parity-of-information regime, but not under the other three. Those of you who were not convinced that the trading in that scenario was wrongful may favor one of the less restrictive models.
In this post, I offer the following scenario to test our attitudes regarding trading under an equal-access model. An equal-access regime precludes trading by those who have acquired information advantages by virtue of their privileged access to sources that are structurally closed to other market participants (regardless of whether such trading violates a duty of trust and confidence). An equal access model is narrower in scope than the parity-of-information model, but broader than the laissez-faire and fiduciary-fraud models. Consider these facts:
A senior VP at BIG Corp (a publicly traded company) took the lead in closing a big deal to merge BIG Corp with XYZ Corp (another publicly traded company). The shares of both BIG Corp and XYZ Corp will skyrocket when the deal is announced to the public in seven days. The senior VP asks the CEO and board of Big Corp if, instead of receiving the usual cash bonus that would be his due for leading such a deal, he can purchase shares of XYZ Corp for his personal account in advance of the announcement. The CEO and board approve the VP’s trading—deciding that the BIG Corp shareholders will save money from this arrangement. The VP buys XYZ Corp shares in advance of the announcement and he makes huge profits when the deal is announced.
Was the senior VP’s trading wrong or harmful? If you do not think the senior VP or Big Corp has done anything wrong or harmful in this scenario, then you will probably not favor the equal-access model for insider trading regulation—which would render this conduct illegal. You will likely favor some version of the less restrictive laissez-faire or fiduciary-fraud model instead. My next post will offer a scenario to test our intuitions about the fiduciary-fraud model (the third most restrictive regime).
Again, the hope is that walking through these scenarios will help bring some clarity to our shared understanding of when trading on material nonpublic information is wrong and harmful—and (given our answers to these questions) the nature and extent to which it should be regulated. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Friday, August 6, 2021
In January of 2020, The Bharara Task Force on Insider Trading released its report recommending that Congress adopt sweeping reforms of our insider trading enforcement regime. And it appears there is at least some momentum building to act on this recommendation. In April of 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Promoting Transparent Standards for Corporate Insiders Act, and in May of 2021, the House passed the Insider Trading Prohibition Act. I have expressed some concerns about these bills (see, e.g., here and here). But, as I argue in my book, Insider Trading: Law, Ethics, and Reform, I am in complete agreement with the claim that our current insider trading regime is broken and needs to be reformed.
We should not, however, rush to adopt a new insider trading regime without first thoughtfully considering what constitutes insider trading; why it is wrong; who is harmed by it; and the nature and extent of the harm. The answers to these questions have been subject to endless academic debate, but are crucial for determining whether insider trading should be regulated civilly and/or criminally (or not at all), as well as for determining the nature and magnitude of any sanctions to be imposed.
Historically, insider trading regimes around the globe can be grouped (roughly) into four categories (listed from the least to most restrictive): (a) laissez-faire regimes, which permit all trading on information asymmetries, so long as there is no affirmative fraud (actual misrepresentations or concealment); (b) fiduciary-fraud regimes, which recognize a duty to disclose or abstain from trading, but only for those who share a recognized duty of trust and confidence (with either the counterparty to the trade, or with the source of the information, or both); (c) equal-access regimes, which preclude trading by those who have acquired information advantages by virtue of their privileged access to sources that are structurally closed to other market participants (regardless of whether such trading violates a duty of trust and confidence); and (d) parity-of-information regimes, which strive to prohibit all trading on material nonpublic information (regardless of the source).
The following scenario illustrates conduct that would expose the trader to liability under a parity-of-information regime, but not under an equal access, fiduciary-fraud, or laissez-faire regime. As you read through the fact pattern, ask yourself: (1) Is this trading wrong? (2) Who (if anyone) is harmed by it? (3) What is the nature and extent of the harm? (4) Should this trading be regulated (civilly or criminally)? (Please share any answers/thoughts in the comments below!):
A high-school janitor is traveling home from work late at night on a public bus. She looks down and sees a trampled piece of paper. She picks up the paper and reads it. It appears to be someone’s notes from a meeting—though there is nothing to identify the paper’s owner/author. The paper reads as follows:
Meet at HQ of XYZ Corp at 3PM on Jan. 3 to finalize the merger with BIG Corp. Merger to be announced to public on Jan 10. Note: the announcement of merger will send shares of XYZ through the roof, so everyone must maintain strict confidentiality.
The janitor looks up and sees the bus is totally empty. There is no chance of finding the person who dropped the paper. It is January 4. The janitor opens an online brokerage account when she gets home and buys as many shares of XYZ Corp as she can afford. She makes huge profits when the merger is announced on January 10.
If you do not think the janitor has done anything wrong or harmful in this scenario, then you will probably not favor the parity-of-information model for insider trading regulation—which would render this conduct illegal. You will likely favor some version of one of the other insider-trading models instead. My next post will offer a scenario to test our intuitions about the equal-access model (the second-most restrictive regime).
The hope is that walking through these scenarios will help bring some clarity to our shared understanding of when trading on material nonpublic information is wrong and harmful—and (given our answer to this question) the nature and extent to which it should be regulated.
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
2022 STETSON BUSINESS LAW REVIEW SYMPOSIUM
WHITE COLLAR CRIME
CALL FOR PROPOSALS
DEADLINE: AUGUST 01, 2021
The Stetson Business Law Review (SBLR) at the Stetson University College of Law invites proposals for its inaugural symposium, which will be held at the college in Gulfport, Florida on Friday, February 25, 2022. The SBLR was founded in the 2019–20 academic year by ambitious students with strong interests in business law following the establishment of the Stetson Business Law Concentration.
SBLR WHITE COLLAR CRIME SYMPOSIUM
The Stetson Business Law Review wants to bring diverse voices and perspectives to sunny Tampa Bay and establish itself as a premier journal for legal issues relating to business law, such as white collar crime. As such, it is seeking submissions from individuals with various experiences and backgrounds, inside and outside the legal field. Quality submissions will be published in this Symposium edition, with authors being invited to participate in this in-person Symposium on white collar crime.
PROPOSAL SUBMISSION PROCEDURE
Proposals should be approximately 250–500 words, double-spaced, and in .docx format. Submissions must be submitted via e-mail to the Stetson Business Law Review at SBLRSubmissions@law.stetson.edu no later than 5:00 p.m. PST on August 01, 2021.
Accepted proposals will require submission of a draft of an article of approximately 20-40 pages by December 01, 2021. The deadline for the final paper is March 10, 2022.
Feel free to contact the Editorial Board at BusLawReview@law.stetson.edu with any questions or concerns. Thank you in advance for your interest in the Stetson Business Law Review, and we look forward to receiving your submissions
Friday, July 9, 2021
I noted in a January post that Professor Mihailis E. Diamantis and I are joining Professors J. Kelly Strader, and Sandra D. Jordan as co-authors of the 4th edition of White Collar Crime: Cases, Materials, and Problems. I am pleased to announce that the text is now available for fall 2021 adoption, and instructors can request an electronic copy for immediate review here. Here is a description of the new edition:
White Collar Crime: Cases, Materials, and Problems is a unique, problems-focused approach to teaching and learning about federal white collar crime. The authors draw from their practice experience in prosecuting and defending white collar crime cases to present both foundational and current issues of law, policy, and theory as they arise in statutes and cases. The text includes:
- Comprehensive coverage of the substantive law of various white collar crimes (topics include conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, securities fraud, computer crimes, bribery, extortion, perjury, false statements, obstruction of justice, tax fraud, currency transaction reporting crimes, money laundering, and RICO);
- Chapters dedicated to the practical and procedural issues that typically arise in, and often are unique to, white collar cases (topics include internal investigations, compliance programs, civil actions and fines, parallel proceedings, grand juries, Fifth Amendment, sentencing, and forfeitures); and
- Practice problems throughout to enhance both effective teaching and student comprehension through engagement.
For the fourth edition, the authors have continued their emphasis on the most recent, cutting-edge issues in white collar crime and litigation. They have added a number of recent United States Supreme Court and Circuit court decisions. The text expands its focus on policy and practical aspects of white collar practice, including the addition of many new practice problems and exercises.
Friday, June 25, 2021
35 Years Later: Greed Is Still Not Good, but It Is also Not a Good Justification for Imposing Criminal Liability
Now that the spring commencement address season has come to a close, I’ll take a moment to reflect on one of the most infamous commencement speeches in history. Thirty-five years ago, on May 18, 1986, Ivan Boesky addressed the graduating class of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. In his speech, he famously claimed that
[g]reed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is really healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.
In response, James B. Stewart notes that the “crowd burst into spontaneous applause as students laughed and looked at each other knowingly.” Den of Thieves p.261 (1992). And why not? This was the 1980s, the “Decade of Greed” (see, e.g., here and here). Boesky’s claim garnered so much attention that it was famously paraphrased by the fictional Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s iconic 1987 movie, Wall Street.
But, of course, by definition greed is not good. As Aristotle explained, greed is a vice. It is the opposite of the virtue of generosity. The greedy are “shameful love[rs] of gain” who “go to excess in taking, by taking anything from any source.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (translated by Terence Irwin).
We often hear calls for criminal prosecution in response to rampant greed on Wall Street. For example, according to one California court, insider trading is “a manifestation of undue greed among the already well-to-do, worthy of legislated intervention if for no other reason than to send a message of censure on behalf of the American people.” There are, however, a number of problems with the use of the criminal law to combat the vice of greed.
In my book, Insider Trading: Law, Ethics, and Reform, I argue that greed is a poor justification for criminalizing conduct in the financial industry. (I focus on greed as a justification for the criminalization of insider trading in the book, but the arguments apply to financial crimes more generally.) First, any financial regulation targeting conduct to address the problem of greed will almost certainly be over-inclusive. The proceeds of any financial scheme can be used for greedy or generous ends (think the legend of Robinhood—not the retail broker!). Second, regulating conduct on the basis of greed will also be under-inclusive—unless the plan is to criminalize all profit-making endeavors.
Finally, while greedy acts are always harmful to the actor’s character, they are not always harmful to others. Greedy acts will typically harm others only if they are also unjust or unfair. If targeted acts are unjust or unfair, this is an independent justification for criminalization—and appeal to greed is superfluous. If, however, an act is neither unjust nor unfair, but is criminalized to combat the actor’s greed alone, then this justification violates John Stuart Mill’s time-honored Harm Principle. For Mill, the only valid justification for imposing criminal sanctions on a citizen is to prevent harm to others—harm to the character of the actor alone is insufficient justification. If a greedy act is neither unjust nor unfair, then its only conceivable harm is to the character of the actor. Consistent with Mill’s principle, Western liberal democracies have been trending away from such moralistic/vice laws. I think this is progress.
In sum, though greed is not good, it is also not a good basis for prosecuting firms or individuals. Criminal sanctions should be imposed based on considerations of justice and fairness—not character.
Friday, April 16, 2021
With recent studies suggesting that insiders are availing themselves of SEC Rule 10b5-1(c) trading plains to beat the market by trading their own company’s shares based on material non-public information, Congress may be poised to act. In March of 2021, Representative Maxine Waters reintroduced a bill entitled the Promoting Transparent Standards for Corporate Insiders Act. The same bill passed the house in the 116th Congress, but died in the Senate. If passed, the bill would require the SEC to study a number of proposed amendments to 10b5-1(c), report to Congress, and then implement the results of that study through rulemaking. I identified some problems with the bill in my article, Undoing a Deal with the Devil: Some Challenges for Congress's Proposed Reform of Insider Trading Plans. But if significant reforms are in store for insider trading plans, then insiders may look to other creative “loopholes” that permit them to monetize access to their firms’ material nonpublic information.
Professors Sureyya Burcu Avci, Cindy Schipani, Nejat Seyhun, and Andrew Verstein, have identified “insider giving” as another strategy for hiding insider trading in plain sight. Here’s the abstract for their article, Insider Giving, which is forthcoming in the Duke Law Journal:
Corporate insiders can avoid losses if they dispose of their stock while in possession of material, non-public information. One means of disposal, selling the stock, is illegal and subject to prompt mandatory reporting. A second strategy is almost as effective and it faces lax reporting requirements and legal restrictions. That second method is to donate the stock to a charity and take a charitable tax deduction at the inflated stock price. “Insider giving” is a potent substitute for insider trading. We show that insider giving is far more widespread than previously believed. In particular, we show that it is not limited to officers and directors. Large investors appear to regularly receive material non-public information and use it to avoid losses. Using a vast dataset of essentially all transactions in public company stock since 1986, we find consistent and economically significant evidence that these shareholders’ impeccable timing likely reflects information leakage. We also document substantial evidence of backdating – investors falsifying the date of their gift to capture a larger tax break. We show why lax reporting and enforcement encourage insider giving, explain why insider giving represents a policy failure, and highlight the theoretical implications of these findings to broader corporate, securities, and tax debates.
Friday, March 19, 2021
The University of Connecticut School of Business hosts The Business and Human Rights Initiative, which “seeks to develop and support multidisciplinary and engaged research, education, and public outreach at the intersection of business and human rights.” Professor Stephen Park, Director of the Business and Human Rights Initiative, invited me to be a discussant at the most recent meeting of the Initiative’s workshop series. The workshop focused on Rachel Chambers' and Jena Martin's excellent paper, A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for Human Rights. Here’s an abstract:
The global movement towards the adoption of human rights due diligence laws is gaining momentum. Starting in France, moving to the Netherlands, and now at the European Union level, lawmakers across Europe are accepting the need to legislate to require that companies conduct human rights due diligence throughout their global operations. The situation in the United States is very different: on the federal level there is currently no law that mandates corporate human rights due diligence. Civil society organization International Corporate Accountability Roundtable is stepping into the breach with a legislative proposal building on the model of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to prohibit corporations from engaging in grave human rights violations and to give the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice the power to investigate any alleged violations.
The draft law, called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – Human Rights (FCPA-HR) follows the general framework of the FCPA, but with certain enumerated human rights violations as the prohibited conduct rather than bribery and corruption. The FCPA-HR continues where the FCPA left off by requiring companies to engage in substantive conduct to prevent any human rights violations from occurring in their course of business and to make regular reports regarding their compliance and success. This paper situates the draft law within the current picture for business and human rights legislation both in the United States and in Europe, identifies the strengths of using the FCPA model, and analyzes the FCPA-HR proposal, addressing the likely critiques of the proposal.
Though I have been following developments in the area of business and human rights for years, I must admit that I have not paid sufficient attention to the movement in my classroom and scholarship. Chambers’ and Martin’s paper reminds us all of the need for reform, and of the reality that legislation in this area is imminent (at home and abroad). Imposing civil and criminal liability on corporations and individuals for their direct or indirect involvement in human rights violations would force dramatic changes in corporate compliance practices. If the SEC will have primary responsibility for enforcement (as it does for the FCPA), then we can expect dramatic organizational changes at the Commission as well. With so much at stake, there is a real need for collaboration among human rights experts, lawyers, scholars, regulators, and issuers to find the right model. There’s a lot of work to do, and Chambers’ and Martin’s paper offers an excellent start. The paper remains a work in progress, but it will be available soon—I look forward to its publication!
Friday, February 19, 2021
I just posted a new article, Regulatory Ritualism and other Lessons from the Global Experience of Insider Trading Law, on SSRN. This article is the culmination of a five-year research project. It offers a comprehensive comparative study of insider-trading regimes around the globe with an eye to much-needed reform in the United States. It is the first article to consider global insider trading enforcement in light of the problem of regulatory ritualism. Regulatory ritualism occurs where great attention is paid to the institutionalization of a regulatory regime without commitment to, or acceptance of, the normative goals that those institutions are designed to achieve. The article develops and expands upon some themes and arguments that were first sketched out in Chapters 5 and 11 of my book, Insider Trading: Law, Ethics, and Reform. Here's the article's abstract:
There is growing consensus that the insider-trading regime in the United States, the oldest in the world, is in need of reform. Indeed, three reform bills are currently before Congress, and one recently passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. As the U.S. considers paths to reforming its own insider trading laws, it would be remiss to ignore potential lessons from global experimentation and innovation, particularly in light of the fact that so many insider trading regimes have been recently adopted around the world.
Any such comparative study should, however, be cautious in drawing its conclusions. Reformers should pay close attention to the political, social, and economic motivations that might explain the recent trend toward near-universal adoption of insider trading regulations around the globe. Evidence suggests that at least some countries have adopted their insider trading regimes ritualistically. Regulatory ritualism occurs where great attention is paid to the institutionalization of a regulatory regime without commitment to or acceptance of the normative goals that those institutions are designed to achieve. If countries' insider trading regimes are adopted only ritualistically (e.g., to receive geopolitical carrots or to avoid geopolitical sticks), then comparative analysis should account for the fact that these regimes may not reflect its citizens' (or markets') lived experience or normative commitments.
This Article aids the effort of reforming our insider-trading laws here in the United States by considering lessons that can be learned from the global experience. Part I makes the case that the insider-trading regime in the U.S. is in need of reform. Part II charts the global rise of insider trading regulation in the twentieth century. Part III summarizes important features of representative regimes around the globe (e.g., in Japan, Europe, China, Russia, India, Canada, Australia, and Brazil). Part IV notes the trend toward universality in insider trading regulations and considers some of the moral and economic conclusions scholars and regulators have drawn from this trend. Part V identifies the problem of regulatory ritualism, and its implications for global enforcement and compliance. Part VI then turns to the constructive exercise of determining what can be learned from the global experience of regulating insider trading with an eye to reforming the American regime.
Saturday, February 6, 2021
Commenters have likened the recent retail “meme” trading in stocks such as GameStop Corp. to buying a ticket on a roller coaster—“You don’t go on a roller coaster because you end up in a different place, you go on it for the ride and it’s exciting because you’re part of it.” See, Bailey Lipschultz and Divya Balji, Historic Week for Gamestop Ends with 400% Rally as Shorts Yield, Bloomberg (January 29, 2021).
The comparison is apt in a number of respects. These retail traders, led by some members of the “WallStreetBets” group on the Reddit social media platform, “got on” GameStop a couple weeks ago at just under $20 a share, and, despite its rapid rise to a high of just under $500 a share, I think most people expect (including the meme traders) that the price at which this turbulent ride will end is somewhere around where it began. After all, GameStop’s fundamentals have not changed. It remains a brick-and-mortar business that was devastated by the pandemic, and it is expected to steadily lose market share to online vendors.
For anyone interested in the mechanics of the “short squeeze” and how these traders managed to move price of GameStop so far out of whack with its presumed value, see some helpful articles here, here, and here. For some thoughts on the controversial limitations on trading by retail brokerage firms such as Robinhood, see my Co-bloggers Ben Edwards’ and Anne Lipton’s recent posts here and here. And see some other interesting takes from my Co-blogger Joan Macleod Heminway here. My purpose in this post is to highlight one aspect of the meme-trading phenomenon that has, I think, been underappreciated.
Given that we all have a pretty good idea of how this roller-coaster ride is going to end, why did many retail traders (along with others) continue to pile on? One answer is that these traders were just blinded by greed and FOMO. Indeed, concern that amateur traders are being led astray in this way by social media influencers and "game-like" trading interfaces has led some to call for paternalistic trading restrictions by brokerage firms and/or regulatory intervention. But it seems to me that something quite different may be going on here as well. There is evidence to suggest that at least some of the meme traders who have taken the markets by storm over the last couple weeks are not (and never were) buying these heavily-shorted stocks simply to make money, but rather to make a point.
The “points” being made by these traders are not necessarily coordinated or consistent. They range from the oft-expressed goal of “taking it to” Wall-Street hedge funds to "hurt the big guys" in the same vein as the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2008, to protesting the demise of bricks-and-mortar businesses by Big-Tech and mega online vendors, to the populist rejection of perceived top-down elitism (private and public) that elevated Donald Trump to the Presidency in 2016. Indeed, former SEC Commissioner, Laura Unger, recently compared the recent social-media-driven short squeezes to the Capitol Hill riots on January 6. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that some meme traders are buying stocks on aesthetic grounds, to bring back retro companies like Blackberry and Blockbuster as “nostalgia plays.”
If retail traders are trading as a form of political, social, or aesthetic expression, then what are the implications? What does this mean for the Efficient Market Hypothesis? What (if anything) should (or can) regulators and/or legislators do about it? These are some questions my co-authors Jeremy Kidd, George Mocsary, and I plan to explore in a forthcoming article. I plan to post some more thoughts on the possibility of retail securities trading as a form of speech (and its social, market, and regulatory implications) in the coming weeks.
Friday, January 8, 2021
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.
Friday, December 18, 2020
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:
- 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??
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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 email@example.com.
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
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.
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.
Monday, December 7, 2020
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.
Friday, October 30, 2020
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.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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)