Prof. Bainbridge flags this disturbing Wall Street Journal piece:
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?).
“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]
Are you surprised? Study finds “that politically connected firms on average are less likely to be involved in SEC enforcement actions and face lower penalties if they are prosecuted by the SEC.” [Maria Correia, SSRN via Jeffrey Miron, Cato]
Having defied the Securities and Exchange Commission and beaten its inside trading allegations in court, the investor and team owner is not through giving them a piece of his mind: “I think they exemplify what type of organization you should expect when you have nothing but attorneys and in particular former prosecutors running the show. …There is a culture of trying to win, not trying to find justice.” In the absence of bright-line rules, notes Cuban, the commission resorts to “regulation through litigation,” trying to ram through doubtful legal interpretations by way of sheer vehemence of enforcement. [Kevin Funnell/Bank Lawyer's Blog, Alexander Cohen/Business Rights Center, earlier] Attorney Lyle Roberts, who represented Cuban, will also be known to some of our readers for his blogging at The 10b-5 Daily.
Could it be a federal crime? And what is its connection to insider trading law, and to recent commercial efforts (Fantex Holdings) to “securitize sports” by enabling investment in individual athletes’ personal brands? [Justin V. Shur, Eric R. Nitz and Justin M. Ellis, Corporate Counsel]
I’ve now got a guest column at PointOfLaw.com on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed rule (earlier) requiring public companies to calculate and make public the ratio between chief executive officer (CEO) pay and the pay of a median worker. For companies with international operations in particular, the calculation may be quite difficult (it might depend on assumed exchange rates, for example, to say nothing of noncash benefits) and it might also depend on the ability to gather in one place certain types of data whose export is forbidden by some privacy-sensitive foreign laws. And all for what, aside from stoking demagogy? Or was that the point of the Dodd-Frank mandate that the SEC is now implementing?
I have fond memories of launching Point of Law during my years at the Manhattan Institute, and I was its primary writer for many years, so it is especially rewarding to contribute a guest column there. Under the leadership of MI’s Jim Copland, the site (and MI in general) has become especially active in corporate governance, shareholder and SEC controversies.
“A federal jury in Dallas yesterday rejected SEC claims that [Dallas Mavericks owner] Cuban engaged in insider trading when he sold his stake in a Canadian Internet company nine years ago to avoid a $750,000 loss. Jurors found the information Cuban acted on wasn’t confidential and that he hadn’t promised not to trade on it.” [Bloomberg Business Week, Bainbridge] Bonus: Jonathan Macey (Yale) on inside trading [video at Bainbridge, discusses Cuban case]
“U.S. corporations will need to disclose how the paychecks of their chief executive officers compare with those of their workers under a new proposal released [in September] by a sharply divided U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.” [Reuters] The measure, pushed by labor advocates, was prescribed as part of the maximalist-regulation Dodd-Frank law, but opponents say the SEC majority is requiring needlessly costly compliance methods: “Proponents have acknowledged the sole objective of the pay ratio is to shame CEOs, but the shame from this rule should not be put on CEOS- it should be put on the five of us,” said Republican commissioner Michael Piwowar. “Shame on us for putting special interests ahead of investors.” [Towers Watson/MarketWatch] Because of the high expected cost of compliance, “we are almost certain to see quite a few companies paying more than they actually pay their CEO to figure out how much more their CEO makes than their median worker. If this rule was really being implemented for the benefit of the shareholders, then Congress could have let each company’s shareholders opt in or opt out of this disclosure regime. Clearly, the people pushing this ratio had no interest in giving actual shareholders a veto over this racket.” [Marc Hodak] More: Prof. Bainbridge, Keith Paul Bishop, Michael Greve, Jeffrey Miron on FBN. The agency is taking public comments through December 2.
… when regulatory/enforcement agencies generate their own budget from fines, notes Michael Greve, reflecting on the J.P. Morgan “London Whale” settlement and other matters:
Here’s where the $920 million [from the Morgan settlement] went: OCC, $300 million; SEC, $200 million; the Fed, $200 million. (The remainder went to the British authorities.) That much money, in a single action, raises the alarming prospect of agencies that become self-funding and, moreover, profit centers for a cash-starved Congress — through their enforcement activities. Here’s the blazingly obvious problem: most of the laws on the books are stupid and, when fully enforced, would land half of us in jail and the rest of us in bankruptcy. A principal way to check that problem is the appropriations process, which limits the enforcers’ budgets (and may influence their enforcement choices, for good or ill). When the money starts flowing in the other direction, all bets are off: you’re living under a NAFI regime.
NAFI is a term of art: it means “Non-Appropriated Funds Agencies”—outfits that are part of the government but financed not through congressional appropriations but through their own operations and revolving funds. The U.S. Mint is a NAFI. So is the Federal Reserve: it finances its budget from its earnings and then kicks the rest over to the Treasury. The CFPB has strong NAFI features: it simply sends a demand letter to the Fed, telling it how much money it wants (up to a certain percentage of the Fed’s earnings—above that level, the CFPB may receive appropriations). As noted, the Fed’s earnings don’t initially go into the Treasury and therefore aren’t appropriated from it.
The Securities and Exchange Commission hasn’t reached NAFI status yet, Greve writes, but not for want of trying.