Tag: Securities Regulation


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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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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Dodd-Frank Turns Five, What’s Next?

Daniel F.C. Crowley is a partner at K&L Gates LLP. This post is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Crowley, Bruce J. HeimanSean P. Donovan-Smith, and Giovanni Campi.

The 2008 credit crisis was the beginning of an era of unprecedented government management of the capital markets. July 21, 2015 marked the fifth anniversary of the hallmark congressional response, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). Dodd-Frank resulted in an extraordinary revamp of the regulatory regime that governs the U.S. financial system and, consequently, has significant implications for the U.S. economy and the international financial system.

Members of Congress recognized the fifth anniversary of Dodd-Frank in markedly different ways. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) has held two of a series of three hearings to examine whether the United States is more prosperous, free, and stable five years after enactment of the law. In contrast, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—one of the leading proponents of the law—and other members of Congress have criticized the slow pace of implementation by the regulatory agencies. Meanwhile, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) is advancing the “Financial Regulatory Improvement Act of 2015,” which seeks to amend a number of provisions of Dodd-Frank.

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Unfinished Reform in the Global Financial System

Lewis B. Kaden is John Harvey Gregory Lecturer on World Organizations, Harvard Law School, and Senior Fellow of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center on Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School of Government. This post is based on Mr. Kaden’s paper, which was adapted from remarks delivered at Cambridge University on February 27, 2015 and at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University on April 9, 2015. The full paper is available for download here.

This paper offers a perspective on the challenges that the global financial system will face in the course of the next decade. While there has been significant progress since the financial crisis of 2007-2009 and the slow and uneven pressure of recovery and reform, a great deal of important work lies ahead. Part I briefly reviews, for the purpose of general background, the context and causes of the financial crisis. Part II identifies the key lessons to be learned from the crisis, and Part III outlines the major reforms adopted to date in the United States, Europe and the G-20. Finally, Part IV highlights what I regard as the principal ongoing issues affecting the financial system and suggests some approaches for dealing with them.

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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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Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism

Robert C. Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. This post is based on an article forthcoming in the Financial Analysts Journal. 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).

Across the world, a clamor is rising against corporate short-termism—the undue attention to quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term sustainable growth. In one survey of chief financial officers, the majority of respondents reported that they would forgo current spending on profitable long-term projects to avoid missing earnings estimates for the upcoming quarter.

Critics of short-termism have singled out a set of culprits—activist hedge funds that acquire 1% or 2% of a company’s stock and then push hard for measures designed to boost the stock price quickly but unsustainably. The typical activist program involves raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, or spinning off corporate divisions—usually accompanied by a request for board seats.

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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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An Interview with Chief Justice Strine

Judy Warner is editor-in-chief of NACD Directorship. This post is based on an interview between Ms. Warner and Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. The full interview is available here. Research by Chief Justice Strine recently issued by the Program on Corporate Governance includes A Job is Not a Hobby: The Judicial Revival of Corporate Paternalism, discussed on the Forum here; and Can We Do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law, discussed on the Forum here. This post 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.

As your predecessor Chief Justice Myron Steele was stepping down in 2013, Directorship asked him if he had any words of advice for his successor. Chief Justice Steele suggested that his successor be prepared for crisis management because you never know what’s going to happen. So, I’m curious: have you had a crisis so far?

We’ve had a crisis. For example, we’re dealing very much this week with an emerging development that’s affecting our entire state government around the cost of health insurance for our employees. There are very tough choices that have to be made, that regardless of which choice is going to be made, it’s going to have an influence on the ability of our government to fund other priorities.

What you have to do in all these things is understand that life is sort of a series of planned emergencies. What we have tried to do is identify a set of priorities for future action that builds on existing achievements. I’m very fortunate I had a wonderful predecessor and friend in Myron Steele, who cares very much about our judiciary and worked very hard. I had a very high-quality predecessor, and I can build off that platform of making a very good organization.

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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