The SEC as the Whistleblower’s Advocate

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s recent address at the Ray Garrett, Jr. Corporate and Securities Law Institute–Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Illinois; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I am very honored to address the Garrett Institute, one of the most important programs in the country for corporate and securities lawyers, and to be in David’s home territory of Northwestern Law School where he served as Dean before going on to serve as a very distinguished Chairman of the SEC in the late 1980s.

Although the Garrett Institute was established 35 years ago to honor former SEC Chairman Ray Garrett, Jr., I really first came to learn about him when I did a bit of research for a speech I gave in honor of former SEC Commissioner Al Sommer on the importance of the SEC as an independent agency. Mr. Sommer, himself a legendary Commissioner, was recommended by Chairman Garrett to succeed him as Chairman. Seemingly, that did not come to pass because Commissioner Sommer was a Democrat during a Republican administration. That, however, did not stop Chairman Garrett, a Republican, from recommending the person he thought would be the best for the job.

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SEC Broadens Focus on and Requirements for 13D Amendment Disclosure

Philip Richter is co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Richter, Steven Epstein, Abigail Pickering Bomba, and Gail Weinstein. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about blockholder disclosure includes The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here), and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

The SEC recently announced settlements of charges against insiders relating to three different going private transactions. The settlement orders (the “Orders”) reflect a general increased focus by the SEC on insiders’ compliance with Schedule 13D amendment requirements in connection with going private transactions (and possibly other extraordinary transactions), as well as possibly expanded requirements for disclosure of steps taken during the preliminary stage of consideration of a transaction. The charges were against eight directors, officers or major stockholders for their respective failures to file timely amendments to their Schedule 13D filings to disclose their plans to take the companies private. The charges were based on steps these parties had taken in furtherance of the going private transactions, but that had only been disclosed months (or in some cases years) afterward in the proxy statements or Schedule 13E-3 statements relating to the transactions. READ MORE »

SEC Releases Proposed Rules on Dodd-Frank Pay vs. Performance Disclosure Rule

Michael J. Segal is partner in the Executive Compensation and Benefits Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Segal, Andrea K. Wahlquist, and David E. Kahan.

On April 29, 2015, the SEC released proposed rules under Section 953(a) of the Dodd-Frank Act, regarding required proxy and other information statement disclosure of the relationship between executive compensation actually paid by a company, and the company’s financial performance. The proposed rules are subject to public comments for 60 days following their publication in the Federal Register. The new requirements could become effective as early as the 2016 proxy season.

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Fixing Public Sector Finances: The Accounting and Reporting Lever

Holger Spamann is an assistant professor at Harvard Law School. This post is based on the article Fixing Public Sector Finances: The Accounting and Reporting Lever recently published in the UCLA Law Review and co-authored by Professor Spamann and James Naughton of Kellogg School of Management.

Detroit’s bankruptcy highlighted the precarious financial situation of many states, cities, and other localities (collectively referred to as municipalities). In an article just published in the UCLA Law Review, we argue that part of the blame for this situation lies with the outdated and ineffective financial reporting regime for public entities and that fixing this regime is a necessary first step toward fiscal recovery. We provide concrete examples of advisable changes in accounting rules and advocate for institutional changes, particularly involvement of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

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How United States v. Newman Changes The Law

Jon N. Eisenberg is partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

In unsuccessfully seeking rehearing in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), reh’g denied, Nos. 13-1837, 13-1917 (2d Cir. Apr. 3, 2015), the Government acknowledged that the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Newman “will dramatically limit the Government’s ability to prosecute some of the most common, culpable, and market-threatening forms of insider trading,” and “arguably represents one of the most significant developments in insider trading law in a generation.” As we discuss below, Newman is a well-deserved generational setback for the Government. It reflects the Second Circuit’s reasonable reaction to Government overreach, and it establishes brighter lines to cabin prosecutorial and SEC discretion in bringing future criminal and civil insider trading actions.

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SEC Adopts Final Rules Implementing “Regulation A+”

The following post comes to us from James Moloney, partner and co-chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn publication. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

On March 25, 2015, in a unanimous vote, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or the “Commission”) approved final rules to create a new avenue for certain issuers to raise capital in transactions exempt from the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”). The set of new rules, collectively referred to as “Regulation A+,” amends the existing Regulation A offering exemption and is intended to create additional opportunities for companies to raise capital without having to comply with several of the more burdensome aspects of the traditional registration process. The new rules are expected to be effective on or about June 19, 2015. The adopting release and the Regulation A+ rules are available here: Final Rules.

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Over-Reaction to Use of Merger Price to Determine Fair Value

Philip Richter is co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Richter, Steven Epstein, John E. Sorkin, and Gail Weinstein. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The Delaware Chancery Court has used the merger price in the underlying transaction as the primary or sole factor in determining the “fair value” of dissenting shares in two recent appraisal cases. The Delaware Supreme Court recently upheld one of those decisions. However, the court’s use of the merger price in both cases was based on the same limited fact situation, suggesting that—contrary to much of the recent commentary—the merger price will not frequently be used as a key factor in determining fair value in appraisal cases.

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Improving Transparency for Executive Pay Practices

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes: Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here); Golden Parachutes and the Wealth of Shareholders by Lucian Bebchuk, Alma Cohen, and Charles C.Y. Wang (discussed on the Forum here); and The Growth of Executive Pay by Lucian Bebchuk and Yaniv Grinstein.

Today, as part of a series of Congressionally-mandated rules to promote corporate accountability, we consider proposed rules to put a spotlight on the relationship between executive compensation and a company’s financial performance. It is well known that the compensation of corporate executives has grown exponentially over the last several decades, and continues to do so today. It is also commonly accepted that much of that growth reflects the trend towards equity-based and other incentive compensation, which is thought to align the interests of corporate management with the company’s shareholders. Specifically, the idea is that stock options, restricted stock, and other incentive-based compensation encourages management to work hard to improve their company’s performance, because managers will share in the wealth along with shareholders when stock prices rise.

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Some Lessons from DuPont-Trian

Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

The ISS Report on the DuPont-Trian proxy contest calls attention to a number of important insights into ISS policies and practices and those of many of its institutional investor clients. Concomitantly, these policies illustrate the realities of the sharp increase in activist activity and the steps corporations can, and should, take to deal with the activist phenomena.

ISS and major institutional investors will be responsive to and support well-presented attacks on business strategy and operations by activist hedge funds on generally well managed major corporations, even those with an outstanding CEO and board of directors.

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Implications of the Supreme Court Omnicare Decision

Boris Feldman is a member of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C. This post is based on a WSGR alert authored by Mr. Feldman, Robert G. Day, Catherine Moreno, and Michael Nordtvedt.

On March 24, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Omnicare, Inc., et al. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund et al., addressing when an issuer may be held liable for material misstatements or omissions under Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 for statements of opinion in a registration statement.

Among other things, the Supreme Court held that an issuer may be held liable under Section 11 for a statement of opinion, even one that is sincerely held, if its registration statement omits facts about the issuer’s inquiry into, or knowledge concerning, a statement of opinion and if those facts conflict with what a reasonable investor, reading the statement fairly and in context, would take from the statement itself.

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