Tag: Compliance & ethics


Timing Stock Trades for Personal Gain: Private Information and Sales of Shares by CEOs

Robert Parrino is Professor of Finance at the University of Texas at Austin. This post is based on an article by Professor Parrino; Eliezer Fich, Associate Professor of Finance at Drexel University; and Anh Tran, Senior Lecturer in Finance at City University London. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Insider Trading via the Corporation by Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here), 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.

In October 2000, the SEC enacted Rule 10b5-1 which enables managers to reduce their exposure to allegations of trading on material non-public information by announcing pre-planned stock sales up to two years in advance. In our paper, Timing Stock Trades for Personal Gain: Private Information and Sales of Shares by CEOs, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine the impact of Rule 10b5-1 on the gains that CEOs earn when they sell large blocks of stock.

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Are Public Companies Required to Disclose Government Investigations?

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.

For many public companies, the first issue they have to confront after they receive a government subpoena or Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) is whether to disclose publicly that they are under investigation. Curiously, the standards for disclosure of investigations are more muddled than one would expect. As a result, disclosure practices vary—investigations are sometimes disclosed upon receipt of a subpoena or CID, sometimes when the staff advises a company that it has tentatively decided to recommend an enforcement action, sometimes not until the end of the process, and sometimes at other intermediate stages along the way. In many cases, differences in the timing of disclosure may reflect different approaches to disclosure. We discuss below the standards that govern the disclosure decision and practical considerations. We then provide five representative examples of language that companies used when they disclosed investigations at an early stage.

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Chamber of Commerce Airs Grievances Related To Internal Controls Inspections

Jason M. Halper is a partner in the Securities Litigation & Regulatory Enforcement Practice Group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. This post is based on an Orrick publication by Mr. Halper and William J. Foley Jr.

In recent months, issues related to internal control systems and reporting have taken on an increased profile and significance. For example, as previously noted by the authors here and here, the SEC has sought to prioritize compliance with internal controls by initiating a growing number of investigations into companies based on allegations of inadequate internal controls.

By way of background, “internal controls” refers to the procedures and practices that companies use to manage risk, conduct business efficiently, and ensure compliance with the law and company policy. Public companies are required to maintain sufficient internal controls by the securities laws. In particular, Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (as amended by the Dodd-Frank Act) requires, among other things, that: (i) company management assess and report on the effectiveness of the company’s internal control over its financial reporting, and (ii) the company’s independent auditors verify management’s disclosures. Sarbanes-Oxley also created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (“PCAOB”) to oversee public company audits, including the audits of internal control reporting. The PCAOB, in turn, conducts regular inspections to ensure compliance with laws, rules and professional standards.

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Attorney-Whistleblowing and Conflicting Regulatory Regimes

Jennifer M. Pacella is Assistant Professor of Law at City University of New York (CUNY), Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College.

In my latest article, Conflicted Counselors: Retaliation Protections for Attorney-Whistleblowers in an Inconsistent Regulatory Regime, I examine the ever-evolving issue of attorney-whistleblowing, the reporting requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) of attorneys representing issuer-clients, the potential for conflict of these requirements with the rules of professional conduct in various states, and the lack of retaliation protections for attorneys subject to these rules. Although attorney-whistleblowing undoubtedly invokes concerns about ethics and client relationships, SOX requires attorneys who “appear and practice” before the Securities and Exchange Commission to internally blow the whistle on their clients by reporting evidence of material violations of the law “up-the-ladder” when they represent issuers. If an attorney fails to adhere to these requirements, he/she will be subject to SEC-imposed civil penalties and disciplinary action. The SOX rules also allow an attorney to make a permissive disclosure to the SEC, revealing confidential information without the issuer-client’s consent, in certain instances, including when the attorney reasonably believes necessary to prevent substantial financial injury to the issuer.

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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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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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Governance Challenges Arising From “Corporate Cooperation” Concepts

Michael W. Peregrine is a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. This post is based on an article by Mr. Peregrine, with assistance from Joshua T. Buchman and Kelsey J. Leingang; the views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the views of McDermott Will & Emery LLP or its clients.

The current Department of Justice emphasis on “corporate cooperation” in the context of government investigations creates the potential for significant tension to arise between governance and executive leadership, which potential should be recognized and addressed proactively by the board.

The DOJ Criminal Division has, with notable frequency this spring, sought to increase public transparency as to the process it applies when making a decision with respect to corporate prosecutions. A principal goal of DOJ’s public effort is to clarify the parameters it considers in deciding how to proceed when made aware of alleged corporate wrongdoing. This goal includes making the value of cooperation, and the consequences of noncooperation, more clearly apparent to corporations and their advisors. [1]

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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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Human Rights Through A Corporate Governance Lens

George Dallas is Policy Director at International Corporate Governance Network (ICGN). The following post is based on an ICGN publication by Mr. Dallas and Lauren Compere, Managing Director at Boston Common Asset Management; the complete publication, including annexes, is available here.

Human rights [1] are attracting increasing attention from a corporate governance perspective as a dimension of both business ethics and enterprise risk management for companies. Indeed, the ethical and risk dimensions are in many ways intertwined, insofar as ethical lapses or inattention to human rights practices by companies may not only breach the human rights of those affected by corporate behaviour, but may also have material commercial consequences for the company itself. In extreme cases human rights problems can pose a franchise risk to companies [2]; in lesser cases these can increase costs and damage valuable relationships with stakeholders.

In a broad governance context human rights cannot be simply framed as a reputational or “non-financial” risk; the consequences of poor human rights practices can materially impact a company’s stakeholder relations, financial performance and prospects for sustainable value creation. Accordingly, human rights is an issue warranting greater attention from long-term investors as a matter of investment analysis, valuation and engagement with companies.

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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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