Category Archives: Legislative & Regulatory Developments

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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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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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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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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Fed/FDIC Comments on Wave 3 Resolution Plans

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

On July 28th, the FDIC and the Federal Reserve Board (together, “the regulators”) announced that they have provided private feedback on the resolution plans of 119 Wave 3 banking institutions [1] and the three systemically important non-bank financial institutions. [2] Unlike the regulators’ highly critical August 2014 public commentary on the 2013 resolution plans filed by Wave 1 banking institutions, [3] this week’s comments are largely silent on the regulators’ view of the plans’ adequacy:

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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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Proposed Regulations May Affect Fee Waivers

David I. Shapiro is a is a tax partner resident at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Shapiro, Michelle GoldBrian Kniesly, and Christopher Roman.

The Department of the Treasury and the IRS have issued proposed regulations regarding “disguised payments for services” under Section 707(a)(2)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code. The proposed regulations appear to be primarily focused on management fee waivers (and similar arrangements), but could also affect certain aspects of the tax treatment of carried interest.

Management fee waivers are a planning technique seen mostly in the private equity fund industry, where a fund manager waives a share of its management fee in exchange for a share of future profits (that is separate from any carried interest otherwise payable), often in amounts that are intended to replicate the foregone management fees. Management fee waivers are generally intended to achieve certain benefits, including deferring the receipt of taxable income by the fund sponsor, allowing the fund sponsor to meet its capital commitment to a fund on a non-cash basis, and providing for potentially more favorable tax rates applicable to individuals (i.e., if the underlying share of profits is comprised of long-term capital gain). Management fee waivers have been utilized in different forms, over many years, including arrangements which effectively amount to a package of a higher carried interest and a lower management fee, as well as arrangements which are structured as annual elective waivers. Different arrangements vary in the manner and priority in which waived amounts are paid out of future partnership profit.

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SEC Adopts Pay Ratio Disclosure Rules

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 and Michael J. Schobel. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

The SEC yesterday [August 5, 2015] voted 3-2 to adopt the long-awaited final pay ratio disclosure rules under the Dodd-Frank Act. The rules add new Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K, which will require SEC reporting companies to disclose annually (1) the median of the annual total compensation of all of their employees, excluding the CEO, (2) the annual total compensation of the CEO and (3) the ratio of the annual total compensation of the median employee to the CEO’s annual total compensation. Below is a brief summary of the final rules.

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“Pay Versus Performance” Rule Proposed by SEC Under Dodd-Frank

Joseph E. Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder which first appeared in the New York Law Journal. Andy Tsang, a senior financial analyst with the firm, assisted in the preparation of this column. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

 

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” —E.O. Wilson [1]

On April 29, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced its proposal to add a new Item 402(v), captioned “Pay versus Performance,” to Regulation S-K. [2] The SEC announced the proposed rule pursuant to Dodd-Frank Section 953(a). [3] Section 953(a) directs the SEC to adopt rules requiring that proxy statements and certain “consent solicitation material” [4] provide “information that shows the relationship between executive compensation actually paid and the financial performance of the issuer, taking into account any change in the value of the shares of stock and dividends of the registrant and any distributions.” This is in addition to information already provided under Item 402 of Regulation S-K.
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Money Market Mutual Funds: Stress Testing & New Regulatory Requirements

Jeremy Berkowitz is Vice President in NERA’s Global Securities and Finance Practice. This post is based on a NERA publication authored by Dr. Berkowitz, Patrick E. Conroy, and Jordan Milev.

In July 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted a package of reforms to the regulatory framework governing money market mutual funds. The SEC believes the new rules will enhance the safety and soundness of the money market fund industry during periods of market distress, when redemptions in some funds may increase substantially. [1]

The new rules require institutional prime (general purpose) and institutional municipal money market mutual funds to price and transact at a “floating” net asset value (NAV), permit certain money market mutual funds to charge liquidity fees, and allow the use of redemption gates to temporarily halt withdrawals during periods of stress.
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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
    Robert Pozen
    Mark Ramseyer
    Mark Roe
    Robert Sitkoff
    Holger Spamann
    Guhan Subramanian

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Richard Breeden
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    Daniel Fischel
    Stephen Fraidin
    Byron Georgiou
    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward