Category Archives: Securities Litigation & Enforcement

The Role of Chief Compliance Officers Must be Supported

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.

Chief Compliance Officers of Investment Advisers (CCOs) play an important and crucial role in fostering integrity in the securities industry. They are responsible for making sure that their firms comply with the rules that apply to their operations. As part of that effort, CCOs typically work with senior corporate leadership to instill a culture of compliance, nurture an environment where employees understand the value of honesty and integrity, and encourage everyone to take compliance issues seriously. CCOs of investment advisers (as with CCOs of other regulated entities) also work to prevent violations from occurring in the first place and, thus, prevent violations from causing harm to the firm, its investors, and market participants. Given the vital role that CCOs play, they need to be supported. Simply stated, the Commission needs capable and honest CCOs to help protect investors and the integrity of the capital markets.

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Government Preferences and SEC Enforcement

Jonas Heese is Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Accounting & Management Unit at Harvard Business School.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) enforcement actions have been subject to increased scrutiny following the SEC’s failure to detect several accounting frauds. A growing literature investigates the reasons for such failure in SEC enforcement by examining the SEC’s choice of enforcement targets. While several studies recognize that the SEC and its enforcement actions are subject to political influence (e.g., Correia, 2014; Yu and Yu, 2011), they do not consider that such influence by the government may also reflect voters’ interests. Yet, economists such as Stigler (1971) and Peltzman (1976) have long emphasized that the government may also influence regulations and regulatory agencies to reflect voters’ interests—independent of firms’ political connections. In my paper, Government Preferences and SEC Enforcement, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I examine whether political influence by the president and Congress (“government”) on the SEC may reflect voters’ interests.

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DOJ Provides “Best Practices” for Corporate Internal Investigations

Eugene Illovsky is a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP. This post is based on a Morrison & Foerster publication by Mr. Illovsky.

What does the Department of Justice think is a high-quality internal investigation? How does DOJ decide whether an investigation was good enough to help a company avoid, or at least mitigate, criminal charges? In recent speeches, DOJ has provided important guidance on its view of best practices, and some useful common-sense reminders, for our clients’ counsel and their investigating board committees. Much of that guidance came in May 19, 2015 remarks by Criminal Division head Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, as well as in other recent speeches.

AAG Caldwell made clear that DOJ does indeed take the time to scrutinize and “evaluate the quality of a company’s internal investigation.” She explained that the Department does this evaluation “through our own investigation” as well as “in considering what charges to bring against a company.”

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A Threefold Cord—Working Together to Meet the Pervasive Challenge of Cyber-Crime

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent address at SINET Innovation Summit 2015; 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.

Cybersecurity is an issue of profound importance in today’s technology-driven world. What was once a problem only for IT professionals is now a fact of life for all of us. I say “us” because, as you may know, hackers breached a government database a few weeks ago and stole the personal information of roughly four million government employees, which may well include me.

There’s hardly a day that goes by that we don’t hear of some new cyberattack. These incidents are clear illustrations of how the internet has become an integral part of our professional and personal lives. And while the benefits have been enormous, so, too, have the risks.

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Corporate Litigation: Disinterested Directors and “Entire Fairness” Cases

Joseph M. McLaughlin is a Partner in the Litigation Department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. The post is based on a Simpson Thacher client memorandum by Mr. McLaughlin, and 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.

Under Delaware law, where a controlling shareholder stands on both sides of a corporate transaction that is challenged by minority stakeholders, the controller presumptively bears the burden of proving the entire fairness of the transaction, i.e. “both fair dealing and fair price.” Conversely, disinterested directors—those with no financial stake in the transaction—may be liable for breach of fiduciary duty only where they have breached a non-exculpated duty in connection with the negotiation or approval of the transaction.

Delaware General Corporation Law §102(b)(7) authorizes corporations to include a provision in the certificate of incorporation exculpating their directors from money damages claims based on breach of the duty of care, but not the duty of loyalty. Delaware courts have long held that a §102(b)(7) charter provision “entitles directors to dismissal of any claims for money damages against them that are based solely on alleged breaches of the board’s duty of care.” [1] The overwhelming majority of Delaware corporations have adopted exculpatory provisions.

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Congress Should Let the SEC Do its Job

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.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee included in its 2016 appropriations bill for financial services agencies a provision that would prevent the SEC from developing rules that would require public companies to disclose their political spending. Although this provision is unlikely to become law, its adoption is regrettable. In our view, Congress should let the SEC do its job and use its expert judgment—free of political pressures in any direction—to determine what information should be disclosed to public-company investors.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law academics that petitioned the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. The SEC has now received over 1.2 million comments on the proposal—more than any rulemaking petition in the SEC’s history. As we have explained in previous posts on the Forum, the case for rules requiring disclosure of corporate spending is compelling. Unfortunately, Chairman Mary Jo White has faced significant political pressure not to develop such rules, and the Commission has so far chosen to delay consideration of rules in this area.

As we explained in earlier posts on the Forum (see, for example, posts here and here), we view this delay as regrettable in light of the compelling arguments in favor of disclosure and the breadth of support that the petition has received. Furthermore, as we explain in detail in our article Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, an analysis of the full range of objections that opponents of transparency have raised makes clear that these opponents have failed to provide a convincing basis for keeping corporate political spending below investors’ radar screen.

We agree with the bipartisan group of three former SEC Commissioners who just last month referred to the SEC’s inaction on the petition as “inexplicable.” At a minimum, the broad support and compelling arguments in favor of disclosure of corporate spending on politics make clear that the Commission should move promptly to consider the petition on the merits. Unfortunately, last week’s move by the Appropriations Committee reflects another attempt to avoid consideration of the rulemaking petition on its merits. Members of Congress should not try to prevent the SEC from even considering the substantive merits of the petition.

While corporate political spending is an issue that politicians are naturally interested in, our petition focuses on whether investors should receive information regarding political spending at the companies they own. That is an issue that falls squarely within the SEC’s mandate and expertise. Regardless of their views on corporate political spending, Congressmen of all stripes should avoid interfering with the Commission’s rulemaking processes. We urge them to allow the SEC to do its job.

NY Court: RMBS Statute of Limitations Runs from Time of Securitization

Theodore N. Mirvis is a partner in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The following post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Mirvis, George T. Conway III, Elaine P. Golin, Graham W. Meli, and Justin V. Rodriguez.

In an important decision for financial institutions and investors in residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS), the New York Court of Appeals unanimously ruled yesterday (June 11, 2015) that claims for breach of representations and warranties made in an RMBS securitization accrue when the representations and warranties are made, which typically occurs when the securitization closes. ACE Securities Corp. v. DB Structured Products, Inc., No. 85 (June 11, 2015) (see our prior memo). The court held that New York’s six-year statute of limitations for breach-of-contract claims thus begins to run at that time—and not when the securitization sponsor refuses, possibly years or decades later, to comply with a securitization trustee’s demand for the contractual remedy of cure or repurchase of non-compliant loans. Accordingly, claims arising out of most pre-financial crisis RMBS securitizations are now time-barred.

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The SEC’s Current Views on Private Equity

Alfred O. Rose and Randall W. Bodner are partners at Ropes & Gray LLP. This post is based on a Ropes & Gray publication.

As a follow-up to last year’s “Spreading Sunshine in Private Equity” speech, in which then-OCIE Director Andrew Bowden stated that the SEC had found that more than half of the funds examined by OCIE had allocated expenses and collected fees inappropriately and identified “lack of transparency” as a pervasive issue in the private equity industry, Marc Wyatt delivered a speech on May 13, 2015, reflecting on progress in the past year as well as identifying likely areas of scrutiny the private equity industry will face in the future. Although the speech has been widely reported, we wanted to highlight particular areas of interest. In this post, we examine the key takeaways from the speech, and outline best practices for the private equity industry going forward.

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Remarks Before the SEC Historical Society

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s remarks at the annual meeting of the SEC Historical Society, 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 was delighted to be able to speak at your annual meeting. This yearly event of the SEC Historical Society is always the right occasion to underscore that those of us who currently have the privilege of serving at the SEC are part of a long and important tradition. The staff of this agency is beyond compare in its dedication, high-mindedness and expertise, making us all very proud to work here.

The SEC alumni are undoubtedly the biggest, most supportive and most enthusiastic group of any government agency or private entity. The SEC’s history is one of important public service and a tradition of protecting investors and bringing confidence to the financial markets. The SEC’s commitment to markets that are both safe and fair, as well as dynamic, has given millions of people the opportunity to share in the growth of the American economy, while facilitating capital formation to fuel the economy.

Those of us here today, who are or who have been part of the SEC tradition, can be rightly proud of our role in shaping a financial system that meets the needs both of visionary entrepreneurs, and those contributing as much as they can to their 401(k) or for their children’s college education.

As a reminder of your service at the SEC, I have been asked to very briefly share with you some of what we are working on—now and for the near future. I think you will recognize in that work the mission that brought you to the agency and which should continue to resonate long after you left your SEC post.

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Capital Unbound: Remarks at the Cato Summit on Financial Regulation

Michael S. Piwowar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Piwowar’s recent remarks at the Cato Summit on Financial Regulation. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Piwowar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I am happy to be with you in New York City. When I have the opportunity to travel for meetings or to conferences such as this, I have fundamentally different conversations than when I am in Washington, D.C. In Washington, conversations frequently are scripted. Participants, who may be accompanied by trade association representatives and lawyers, use their talking points and have been coached to “stay on message.” Those discussions are undoubtedly meaningful as we at the Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission” or “SEC”) engage in rulemaking and otherwise set policy.

But outside of Washington D.C., people generally want to talk about something else. They want to share their dreams and concerns about running their businesses. They want to show how their products, services, and innovations contribute to the economy, create jobs, and improve standards of living. And more importantly, they want to demonstrate how inside-the-beltway regulations are often focused on concerns that do not represent the biggest risks of harm to investors, customers, and businesses outside the beltway. I hear how regulations distract attention from the real risks and challenges of operating a business in globally competitive markets.

Compliance with securities laws and regulations is only one component of running a company. A business must also comply with laws on consumer protection, taxes, safety, employment, zoning, and the environment, to name only a few. If you have multiple locations—such as in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut—you must deal with regulators in each jurisdiction. Soon, it may seem like you exist not to provide a good or service, but just to stay in compliance with the law.

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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
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    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
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    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
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