Tag: Securities enforcement


SEC Charges Computer Sciences Corporation & Former Executives With Accounting Fraud

Nicholas S. Goldin is a partner and Yafit Cohn is an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher publication.

On June 5, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) entered into settled administrative cease-and-desist proceedings with Computer Sciences Corporation (“CSC”) and some of its former executives due to the company’s alleged manipulation of financial results and concealment of problems with the company’s largest contract. [1] Among other things, CSC agreed to pay a $190 million penalty to settle the charges, and two of CSC’s former executives agreed to return a portion of their compensation to CSC pursuant to the clawback provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The SEC also charged former CSC finance executives for ignoring accounting standards to increase reported profits.

Factual Background and SEC Findings

CSC entered into a contract with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (“NHS”) to build and deploy an electronic patient record system. The contract had the potential to earn CSC $5.4 billion in revenue if the company satisfied the timeframes outlined in the contract. The contract also included penalties of up to $160,000 per day for missed deadlines. CSC had trouble developing the software. CSC and NHS amended the contract, NHS agreeing to waive the penalties in exchange for certainty of deployment of the electronic record system on an agreed upon date. It later became clear that CSC would not be able to meet its commitments under the amended contract either.

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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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Shareholder Proposal Developments During the 2015 Proxy Season    

Elizabeth Ising is a partner and Co-Chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Ms. Ising, Sarah E. Fortt, Madison A. Jones, Gillian McPhee, Ronald O. Mueller, Kasey Levit Robinson, and Lori Zyskowski. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

This post provides an overview of shareholder proposals submitted to public companies for 2015 shareholder meetings, including statistics, notable decisions from the staff (the “Staff”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on no-action requests, and information about litigation regarding shareholder proposals.

I. Shareholder Proposal Statistics and Voting Results

A. Shareholder Proposals Submitted

According to data from Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”), shareholders have submitted approximately 943 proposals for 2015 shareholder meetings, which surpasses the total of 901 proposals submitted as of a comparable time last year. For 2015, across four broad categories of shareholder proposals—governance and shareholder rights; environmental and social issues; executive compensation; and corporate civic engagement (which includes proposals regarding contributions to or membership in political, lobbying, or charitable organizations)—the most frequently submitted proposals were governance and shareholder rights proposals (with approximately 352 submitted), largely due to the unprecedented number of proxy access proposals (108 proposals). If not for the dramatic rise in the number of proxy access proposals, proposals on environmental and social issues would have again comprised the largest category of proposals (with approximately 324 submitted), continuing a trend that began in 2014.

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SEC and CFTC Turn to Swaps and Security-Based Swaps Enforcement

Annette Nazareth is a partner in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and a former commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

The week of June 15, 2015 saw two of the first publicly announced enforcement actions brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) to enforce security-based swap and swap regulatory requirements under Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act. The SEC accepted an offer of settlement from a web-based “exchange” for, among other things, offering security-based swaps to retail investors in violation of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. In a separate action, the CFTC obtained a federal court order against a Kansas City man in a case alleging violations of the antifraud provisions of the swap dealer external business conduct rules in Part 23 of the CFTC regulations. [1] Swap dealers and security-based swap market participants may wish to consider these orders and the agencies’ approach to enforcement as firms further develop, review and update their compliance programs.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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