SEC Drifting Further Away from Its Statutory Mission with Latest “Therapeutic Disclosure” Idea

bainbridgeFeatured Expert Contributor — Corporate Governance/Securities Law

Stephen M. Bainbridge, William D. Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

*Editor’s Note: Washington Legal Foundation is pleased to have Professor Bainbridge joining our roster of WLF Legal Pulse Featured Expert Contributors. Professor Bainbridge is a member of WLF’s Legal Policy Advisory Board. He is a prolific scholar, whose work covers a variety of subjects, but with a strong emphasis on the law and economics of public corporations. He also authors ProfessorBainbridge.com, which over the last ten years has consistently earned ABA Top 100 law blog honors.

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An August 15, 2016 Wall Street Journal opinion piece critiqued the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) plan to require that public companies, in the words of SEC Chairman Mary Jo White, “include in their proxy statements more meaningful board diversity disclosures on their board members and nominees.”

This sort of disclosure, as Chairman White remarked when discussing another potential SEC disclosure mandate, is “directed at exerting societal pressure on companies to change behavior, rather than to disclose financial information.” So what she’s proposing now with regards to board diversity is known as therapeutic disclosure. Continue reading

Seventh Circuit Rejects Disclosure-Only Settlement in Merger Tax Suit, Embracing Delaware Chancery Court’s “Trulia” Decision

ARickeyK. Whittaker Guest Commentary

By Anthony Rickey, a solo practitioner at Margrave Law LLC in Georgetown, DE, and Keola R. Whittaker, an Associate with McGuireWoods LLP in its Los Angeles, CA office.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner’s criticism of meritless settlements in In re Walgreen Co. Stockholder Litigation, (Aug. 10, 2016) will cheer hearts skeptical of the utility of mergers-and-acquisitions (M&A) class actions.  The opinion reversed and remanded a district court’s approval of a disclosure settlement arising out of the merger of Walgreen Co. and Alliance Boot GmbH.   Judge Posner explained why each of the six supplemental disclosures offered to the class as settlement consideration were, variously, “worthless,” “provided no new information,” or “could be derived by simple arithmetic from data in the proxy statement. . . .”   After reversing the trial court, the appellate court suggested that the class counsel who had supported such a settlement, and sought $370,000 in fees, had not adequately represented the class, and advised the district court on remand to seriously consider dismissing the suit or appointing new class counsel.  Continue reading

Former SEC Commissioner Brings Shareholder-Proposal Reform Ideas Advanced in WLF Working Paper to Capitol Hill

U_S_SEC_logoFormer Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Commissioner Daniel Gallagher, co-author of a 2015 WLF Working Paper, “Shareholder Proposals: An Exit Strategy for SEC,” testified before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Financial Services on May 17. The hearing was entitled, “Legislative Proposals to Enhance Capital Formation, Transparency, and Regulatory Accountability.”

Mr. Gallagher’s written testimony referenced the January 10, 2014 comments WLF filed with SEC criticizing the current proxy voting regime.  Echoing his arguments in the 2015 WLF Working Paper, Mr. Gallagher urged the Committee to move beyond attempting to reform federal regulation of the proxy voting process and instead leave such oversight to the states. He wrote, “These proposals are meant to approximate the increasingly antiquated notion of an in-person annual shareholder meeting. It’s like listening to a cassette recording of a Victrola, while everyone else is on their iPhones.” He wryly added in a footnote to that statement, “I will now wait for the hipsters of the corporate governance community to tell me that my analogy is wrong because the analog nature of the record and cassette recordings makes them preferable to the digital content on an iPhone.”

DC Circuit’s “Fokker” Decision Preserves the Separation of Powers, but Raises a Concern about DPAs

DC CircuitDeferred-prosecution agreements (DPAs) pose thorny questions from an overcriminalization perspective.  But DPA skeptics should welcome—at least for now—a decision issued last Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.  In a case entitled United States v. Fokker Services B.V., the DC Circuit held that federal district courts may not second-guess the charging decisions of prosecutors under the guise of performing their Speedy Trial Act (STA) duties.

After investigating the defendant company’s self-reporting of potential export control law and federal sanction violations with respect to Iran, Sudan, and Burma, the Department of Justice negotiated an 18-month deferred-prosecution agreement with Fokker.  To implement such a DPA the prosecutor formally initiates criminal charges against the defendant based on facts conceded in the agreement.  If the defendant meets the preconditions mapped out in the DPA (which generally involve complying with the law and keeping its nose clean), the prosecutor will then dismiss those charges at the conclusion of the deferral period.  If, on the other hand, the defendant fails to meet the preconditions at some point along the way, the prosecutor will proceed with its criminal case. Continue reading

Conflict Minerals and Pay Ratio: SEC Rules of Unintended Consequences

U_S_SEC_logoIn a highly influential 1936 essay, “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action,” sociologist Robert K. Merton explained that there were five sources of unintended consequences. One is the “imperious immediacy of interest:” someone wants the intended consequences of an action so badly that they consciously ignore any unintended effects. One can find many examples of this in government regulation. In fact, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) provided an ideal illustration recently with its final rule that requires each listed company to express, in a ratio, how its workforce’s median pay compares with its CEO’s compensation. Continue reading

Circuit Split Clouds Definition of “Whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank Act, Complicating Corporate Compliance

829-Brower_GregjohnsonGuest Commentary

by Greg Brower and Brett W. Johnson, Snell & Wilmer LLP*

A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit further complicated the issue of when an employee can be considered a whistleblower under the Dodd-Frank Act. In Berman v. Neo@Ogilvy, the Second Circuit reversed a district court decision that the plaintiff was not a whistleblower, concluding that the governing definition of “whistleblower” was not the one found in the language of Dodd-Frank, but was the broader one found in a subsequently adopted SEC rule. This interpretation runs counter to a 2013 decision from the Fifth Circuit, Asadi v. G.E. Energy, LLC, and sets up a circuit split that the Supreme Court may be asked to resolve. Continue reading

WLF Attorney Interviewed for FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report Blog Podcast

Attorney Thomas R. Fox, a prominent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) practitioner and author of a forthcoming WLF Legal Opinion Letter, “Is SEC Heading toward a Strict Liability Application of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?,” recently interviewed WLF Legal Studies Division Chief Counsel, Glenn Lammi, about WLF’s public interest work and our focus on the FCPA.

 Episode 151-Glenn Lammi, Washington Legal Foundation.