Category Archives: Accounting & Disclosure

D.C. Circuit Court Upholds Conflict Minerals Decision

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

In the ongoing challenge to the SEC’s conflict minerals rule, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, issued an opinion on August 18 upholding its April 2014 finding that a key aspect of the rule violates constitutional free-speech guarantees, a decision we discussed in this client newsflash.

Last year, the SEC asked the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case in light of the outcome of an unrelated First Amendment lawsuit, American Meat Institute v. United States Department of Agriculture, which addressed the proper standard of review for compelled commercial speech. Stating that it saw no reason to change its analysis in light of the American Meat decision, the court affirmed that it would adhere to its original judgment that portions of the Dodd-Frank Act, under which the rule was promulgated, and the SEC’s final rule, “violate the First Amendment to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have ‘not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’’”

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Pro Forma Compensation

David Larcker is Professor of Accounting at Stanford University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Larcker; Brian Tayan, Researcher with the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at Stanford University; and Youfei Xiao of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

In recent years, companies have begun to voluntarily disclose supplemental calculations of executive compensation beyond those required by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the annual proxy. Our paper, Pro Forma Compensation: Useful Insight or Window-Dressing?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, examines the motivation to disclose adjusted compensation and the prevalence of this practice.

Corporate disclosure of executive compensation is regulated by the SEC and is reported in the annual proxy Compensation Discussion & Analysis section and various summary compensation tables. These figures are widely cited by corporate observers, and in many cases used to rank (and criticize) corporations for their pay practices.

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Forty-Four U.S. Senators Support the Rulemaking Petition for Transparency in Corporate Political Spending

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

We are pleased to report that this week a group of forty-four U.S. Senators sent a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White expressing support for the rulemaking petition on corporate political spending submitted by the committee of corporate and securities law experts that we co-chaired. We are delighted that forty-four Senators have added their voices to the unprecedented support that the petition has already received.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee on the disclosure of corporate political spending and served as the principal draftsmen of the rulemaking petition that the committee submitted. The petition urged the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their spending on politics. To date, the SEC has received more than 1.2 million comments on the proposal—more than any rulemaking petition in the Commission’s history.

The forty-four Senators’ letter begins by stating that they “write to express [their] support” for the rulemaking petition. They go on to state their belief that the disclosure rules advocated by the petition are “consistent with the SEC’s requirement for public companies to disclose meaningful financial information to the public.” They express appreciation to the SEC Chair’s “willingness to strongly consider the importance of this rulemaking.” They conclude by asking that the SEC Chair make the petition “a top priority for the SEC in the near term, and inform [the Senators] of the basis for [the SEC Chair’s] decision should [the SEC Chair] not plan to include it on the Commission’s agenda for the upcoming year.”

The Senators’ letters refers to a prior letter in support of the rulemaking petition that was sent to the SEC by a bipartisan group of former SEC officials. In this letter, former SEC Chairmen Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson and former Commissioner Bevis Longstreth stated that the rulemaking proposed in the petition is a “slam dunk” and that the SEC’s failure to act “flies in the face of the primary mission of the Commission, which since 1934 has been the protection of investors.”

As we have discussed in previous posts on the Forum, the case for rules requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is compelling. Unfortunately, the Commission has so far chosen to delay consideration of rules in this area. The delay is unfortunate and unwarranted in light of the strong arguments for disclosure put forward in the rulemaking petition and the remarkable and broad support that the petition has received. Moreover, as we showed in our article Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, a close examination of the objections that opponents of such rules have raised indicates that these objections, both individually and in combination, fail to provide an adequate basis for opposing rules that would make disclose corporate political spending to investors.

The letter of the forty-four Senators highlights the remarkable level of support that the rulemaking petition has received. The SEC should proceed with rulemaking in this area without further delay.

The forty-four U.S. Senators who signed the letter supporting the rulemaking petition are:

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Enhancing the Commission’s Waiver Process

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement; 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.

Requests for waivers from regulatory disqualifications remain a topic of considerable import—and lively debate—for the Commission. Such requests are typically made when certain individuals or entities become involved in Commission enforcement actions. One consequence of these enforcement actions can be that an entity or individual is automatically disqualified, as mandated by Congress, from conducting certain activities, or from relying on certain exemptions from registration. Commission rules allow entities and individuals subject to such disqualifications to approach the SEC staff and seek a waiver from these prohibitions. This post discusses how the Commission could strengthen its protocols for handling such waiver requests and provide enhanced transparency and clarity on the Commission’s waiver process. In addition, this post discusses the benefit of a more flexible and calibrated approach to waivers.

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Fiduciary Duty Proposal

Dan Ryan is Leader of the Financial Services Advisory Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This post is based on a PwC publication by Mr. Ryan, Adam Gilbert, Genevieve Gimbert, and Armen Meyer.

With fewer than 18 months left in office, President Obama has asserted that the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) proposed fiduciary standard for retirement account advisors is a major priority. The DOL completed public hearings last week on this proposal, and we believe that the rule will be finalized early next year with the proposal’s core framework intact.

The DOL’s final rule is set to transform the competitive landscape and disrupt current business models, particularly for financial institutions that are reliant on traditional broker-dealer activities which are currently not covered by the existing Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) fiduciary standard.

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FTC Charges Activist Hedge Fund

Sabastian V. Niles is counsel in the Corporate Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Niles, Nelson O. Fitts, and Franco Castelli.

Yesterday [August 24, 2015], the Federal Trade Commission announced that Dan Loeb’s Third Point had settled a complaint charging violations of the notification and waiting period requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act in connection with purchases of Yahoo! stock in 2011.

The HSR Act requires that acquirors notify the federal antitrust agencies of transactions that meet applicable thresholds and observe a pre-acquisition waiting period. Acquisitions of up to 10% of a company’s voting stock are exempt if made solely for the purpose of investment, and the acquirer “has no intention of participating in the formulation, determination, or direction of the basic business decisions of the issuer.” Buyers who intend to be involved in the management of the target company or to seek representation on its board of directors are not eligible for the exemption. HSR requirements have historically been enforced strictly and narrowly against public companies, officers, directors, and investors, without deference or favor to any particular class of violator.

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Court Strikes NYC’s “Responsible Banking Act”

Robert J. Giuffra, Jr. is a partner in the Litigation Group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Giuffra, H. Rodgin Cohen, Matthew A. Schwartz, and Marc Trevino.

On August 7, 2015, in a 71-page opinion, Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down New York City Local Law 38 of 2012, entitled the “Responsible Banking Act” (“RBA”), as preempted by federal and state banking law. The RBA—enacted by the City Council on June 28, 2012, over Mayor Bloomberg’s veto—established an eight-member Community Investment Advisory Board (“CIAB”), charged with collecting data at the census-tract level from the 21 banks eligible to receive some of the City’s $150 billion in annual deposits. This data, which went beyond data required by federal and state banking regulators and would be disclosed publicly, covered a variety of categories ranging from the maintenance of foreclosed properties, to investment in affordable housing, to product and service offerings. Based on the data collected and feedback from public hearings, the CIAB was to develop “benchmarks and best practices” against which the deposit banks were to be evaluated, including against each other, in a publicly filed annual report. The report was to identify deposit banks that refused to provide the requested data. Finally, the RBA provided that the City’s Banking Commission—responsible for designating eligible deposit banks—“may” consider the CIAB’s annual report in making its designation decisions.

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SEC and PCAOB on Audit Committees

Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update by Ms. Gregory, Jack B. Jacobs and Thomas J. Kim.

Public company counsel and audit committee members should be aware of recent activity at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) that could lead to additional regulation of audit committee disclosure and to federal normative expectations for how audit committees and their members behave.

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Scrutiny of Private Equity Firms

Veronica Rendón Callahan is a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and co-chair of the firm’s Securities Enforcement and Litigation practice. This post is a based on an Arnold & Porter memorandum.

On June 29, 2015, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. with misallocating more than $17 million in broken deal expenses to its flagship private equity funds in breach of its fiduciary duty as an SEC-registered investment adviser. KKR agreed to pay nearly $30 million to settle the charges. This action represents a continuing and robust focus by the SEC on fee and expense allocation practices and disclosure by private equity fund advisers, many of which are relatively newly registered with the SEC following passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. It serves as a reminder of the need for private equity firms and other advisers to private investment funds to consider bolstering their compliance and disclosure policies and procedures related to the allocation of fees and expenses.
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Legal & General Calls for End to Quarterly Reporting

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 and Sabastian V. Niles. 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).

This summer, Legal & General Investment Management, a major European asset manager and global investor with over £700 billion in total assets under management, contacted the Boards of the London Stock Exchange’s 350 largest companies to support the discontinuation of company quarterly reporting, emphasizing that:

  • “[R]eporting which focuses on short-term performance is not necessarily conducive to building a sustainable business as it may steer management to focus more on short-term goals and away from future business drivers. We, therefore, support the recent regulatory change that removes the requirement for companies to disclose financial reports on a quarterly basis.”
  • “While each company is unique, we understand that providing the market with quarterly updates adds little value for companies that are operating in long-term business cycles. On the other hand, industries with shorter market cycles and companies in a highly competitive global market environment may choose to report more than twice a year.”
  • “Reducing the time spent on reporting that adds little to the business … can lead to more articulation of business strategies, market dynamics and innovation drivers, which are linked to key metrics that drive business performance and long-term shareholder value.

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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
    Alma Cohen
    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
    Jesse Fried
    Oliver Hart
    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
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