“Guess what? You know those SEC disclosures about pending litigation that publicly held companies are required by law to make? Well, if an employer says too much, it may be ‘retaliating’ against the litigants.” [Robin Shea on Seventh Circuit opinion in Greengrass v. International Monetary Systems Ltd.]
- House Oversight Committee report finds evidence FDIC used Operation Choke Point to strangle access to banking for lawful but disliked businesses [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bloomberg, report, Kevin Funnell, HalfWheel (cigar shops), Pete Kasperowicz, The Blaze (guns), Joe Adler/American Banker (critical views)]
- “Fallout for the S.E.C. and the Justice Dept. From the Insider Trading Ruling” [Peter Henning, NYT DealBook, on challenges to previous cases; earlier]
- Congress finally trims Dodd-Frank, with a nose hair clipper. Imagine what Sen. Warren will say if it takes up a scalpel or axe [Michael Greve; but see A. Barton Hinkle defending Warren’s position; Matt Levine (“not worth caring about”)]
- Did tax policy set out to make life tough for American expatriates, or does it just seem that way? [Neil Gandal, WSJ on FATCA, FBAR, etc.]
- “Like other federal agencies, the SEC has long been good at publicizing its initial accusations of wrongdoing …not so good at letting the public know when those accusations turn out to be unfounded or an overreach” [Russell Ryan via Bainbridge, more on SEC press releases on enforcement actions]
- A market with next to no entry: “If Primary Bank, Mr. Greiner’s proposed firm, wins approval, it would be only the second new bank the FDIC has cleared in the U.S. since 2010.” [WSJ]
- “The only people who benefit from shareholder litigation over M&A deals are lawyers. Period. End of discussion.” [Stephen Bainbridge; related, Steve Bradford via Bainbridge (“Delaware’ entire fairness standard morphs into a tax on deals for the benefit of plaintiff lawyers”), earlier here, etc.]
[reposted from Cato at Liberty]
Economic sanctions, when they have an effect at all, tend to inflict misery on a targeted region’s civilian populace and often drive it further into dependence on violent overlords. That truism will surprise few libertarians, but apparently it still comes as news to many in Washington, to judge from the reaction to this morning’s front-page Washington Post account of the humanitarian fiasco brought about by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law’s “conflict minerals” provisions. According to reporter Sudarsan Raghavan, these provisions “set off a chain of events that has propelled millions of [African] miners and their families deeper into poverty.” As they have lost access to their regular incomes, some of these miners have even enlisted with the warlord militias that were the law’s targets.
Congress added the provisions to Dodd-Frank in a fit of moral self-congratulation over making sure Americans had the chance to be ethical and thoughtful consumers of such products as jewelry and cellphones (as well as thousands of other products, as it turned out, from auto parts to the foil in food packaging). Publicly held companies would be required to report on their supply connections to “conflict minerals” such as tin, tungsten, and gold mined in war-torn areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lawmakers assigned enforcement of the law to the Securities and Exchange Commission – a body with scant discernible expertise in either African geopolitics or metallurgy – and barbed it with stringent penalties for disclosure violations, to which are added possible liability in class-action shareholder lawsuits.
Reactions to this morning’s Post account frequently employ words like “unintended” or “tragic” to describe the effect on miners of the law, which people in the Congo soon came to call “Loi Obama” – “Obama’s law”. Unintended and tragic? Maybe. But not unforeseen, because the signs that the law would backfire this way have been in plain sight for years now – as in this 2011 account by Prof. Laura Seay (via) of how “electronics companies now have a strong incentive to source minerals elsewhere, leaving Congolese miners unemployed.” Or this 2011 account by David Aronson in the New York Times of the “unintended and devastating consequences” that he “saw firsthand on a trip to eastern Congo.” Or this more recent paper by law professor Marcia Narine.
But although the evidence has been there for years, the will to believe in the law was too strong – a will fueled by anti-corporate campaigners who take it on faith that when brutalities in the underdeveloped world occur within two or three degrees of separation of the activities of multinational businesses, the right answer must be to blame and shame the businesses.
You might call it an expensive lesson for Americans too, if you assume that anything has been learned. A recent Tulane calculation found that the costs in business compliance have already topped $700 million, with billions more ahead should nothing change. Just this September, the U.S. government conceded that it “does not have the ability to distinguish” which refiners and smelters around the globe are tainted by a connection to militia groups. That is to say, the government has demanded of business a degree of certainty that it cannot achieve itself. Courtesy of UCLA corporate law professor Stephen Bainbridge, here’s a flowchart of what complying might involve for a given business.
If the new Republican Congress wants to be taken seriously about fixing counterproductive regulation, it should make the repeal of this law an early priority. (& Bader)
- “How Operation Choke Point Hurts the Unbanked” [former FDIC chairman William Isaac, American Banker]
- A nation of snitches: “U.S. rules would expand white collar crime informers” [Reuters]
- Courts should stop giving deference to agency interpretations of criminal law: “Justice Scalia’s shot across the SEC’s bow re insider trading” [Bainbridge] Judge Rakoff criticizes SEC for bringing so many enforcement proceedings to in-house adjudicators [Reuters, earlier]
- Monitor envy: “The biggest U.S. banks have 100 or more on-site examiners from an array of regulators” and now New York’s financial regulator wants to get into the act [WSJ]
- Seventh Circuit finds Bank of America entitled to ask loan applicants about expected continuing entitlement to disability benefits, but in the mean time bank agrees in DoJ settlement to cease such inquiries [Easterbrook opinion in Wigginton v. Bank of America, see last page]
- Two SEC commissioners warn that campaigned-for “fair fund” to compensate investors in CR Intrinsic inside trading case “likely to benefit only class-action attorneys and the fund’s administrators” [Daniel Gallagher and Michael Piwowar, WSJ]
- “U.S. veterans sue [major European] banks, claim they should pay for Iraq attacks” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
The Securities and Exchange Commission is increasingly steering cases to hearings in front of the agency’s appointed administrative judges, who found in its favor in every verdict for the 12 months through September, rather than taking them to federal court.
Previously, the agency had tended to use the ALJs (administrative law judges) for relatively cut-and-dried enforcement actions, while taking more complex or cutting-edge disputes to federal court. Now, following the Dodd-Frank expansion of its powers, it prefers ALJs even for many complex and demanding cases arising from charges such as insider trading. Defendants enjoy a range of protections in federal court that are not provided in administrative litigation, including juries as well as the presence of federal judges who are independent of agency control, held to a more demanding ethical code, and drawn generally from higher and more sophisticated circles within the legal profession. Read the entire Bainbridge commentary, with followups linking Henry Manne (adjudicatory actions are ways to avoid the more demanding process of rulemaking) and Keith Bishop (current system open to constitutional challenge?).
- Corporate charter revocation, a goofy cause, naturally enjoys support of RFK Jr. [Bainbridge, more]
- Jury finds Arab Bank liable in terror finance lawsuit [Daniel Fisher first, second, third posts; Kevin Funnell first, second posts]
- “And since most cases do settle, the scope of the law is actually being determined by the DOJ rather than the courts.” [Thomas Vartanian, American Banker] “Lloyds settlement latest example of the shadow regulatory state” [James Copland, City A.M.]
- Gideon Kanner is covering the AIG trial that just started;
- Do the benefits of mandatory investor disclosures outweigh the costs? [Elisabeth de Fontenay, Regulation (PDF) via Matthew Feeney]
- Albany lawprofs on board with scheme to expropriate underwater mortgages through eminent domain and compensate just 60 percent of face value [SSRN, earlier]
- Transparency in whistleblowing: we’ll see what the SEC wants us to see [Daniel Fisher]
- SEC regs suppress small business capital formation and that’s a shame [Commissioner Daniel Gallagher via Bainbridge]
- Federally sponsored gripe site for financial institutions not likely to end well [Hester Peirce and Vera Soliman, Mercatus via Kevin Funnell]
- Alleged terror payments “routed through” sued bank also went through major New York banks, which shouldn’t be surprising [Fisher]
- Did mid-level managers in securitized mortgage finance know they were in a housing bubble but cynically go ahead? Evidence against [Cheng et al., American Economic Review via MR]
- Shareholder litigation: “New ‘loser pays’ standard could curb abusive lawsuits” [Examiner editorial] Delaware take note: corporate by-law changes that cut off fee-seeking opportunism deserve acclaim [Keith Paul Bishop via Bainbridge]
- NYT was hot on “Goldman Sachs manipulated aluminum market” allegations but judge wasn’t [Reuters, July 2013 NYT]
- CFPB might shrug off discrimination and retaliation charges, but many of the firms it regulates could not afford to [Hans Bader]
“The agency is dodging the courts by turning to its own administrative law judges to decide its cases.” [Russell Ryan (King & Spalding), WSJ op-ed, paywalled]
- Furor grows over Obama administration’s Operation Chokepoint program chilling bank access for legal but disfavored groups [Iain Murray, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, FDIC list (not just payday lenders but also lawful purveyors of pills, guns, ammunition, and much more), Hans Bader] Parallel, though not happening under same program: JP Morgan abruptly closes accounts of former Colombia finance minister who is a renowned international economist, apparently because he made it onto a list of diplomats and other “politically exposed persons” statistically associated with legal risks and high compliance costs [Business Insider] Update via Nolan followup: Dana Liebelson at Mother Jones quotes anonymous bank officials as claiming that some account closures are wrongly being attributed to the program, but even in defending it concedes that should banks opt for continuing to service clients in disfavored lines of business they will shoulder distinctive (maybe decisive) compliance costs from “manag[ing] these relationships and risks,” engaging in due diligence, etc. Also, lawmakers like Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) back the program; besides, this isn’t “the first time that feds have asked banks to keep an eye on their customers” since the Know Your Customer program goes back some years. So that’s comforting!
- “Court: Standard & Poor’s is entitled to discovery supporting its ‘selective prosecution’ claim” [Volokh, earlier here and here]
- “Plaintiff? Is That Really Necessary In A Class Action?” [Daniel Fisher on ZymoGenetics case]
- Backed by hedge fund, lawyers exploit anti-terror law to squeeze global banks [Norman Lamont, New York Post]
- “CEO facial masculinity predicts firm’s likelihood of being subject to SEC enforcement action” [Jia, Van Lent, and Zeng, SSRN via @brucecarton]
- “Reflections on High Frequency Trading” [Robert Levy, Cato]
- Banks finally lay to rest long-running litigation under Missouri second-mortgage law (MSMLA), though only after one Kansas City law firm ran up more than $600 million in settlements [Litigation Daily]