Where do we go from here? As we mark another milestone in regulatory reform with the fourth anniversary of the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, it strikes us that although most studies required to be undertaken by the Act have been released and final rules have been promulgated addressing many of the most important regulatory measures, we are still living with a great deal of regulatory uncertainty and extraordinary regulatory complexity.
Posts Tagged ‘Dodd-Frank Act’
The fourth anniversary of the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act provides an opportunity to reflect on why the Act was passed, how the SEC has used the Act to promote financial stability and protect American investors, and what remains to be completed. The financial crisis was devastating, resulting in untold losses for American households and demonstrating the need for strong and effective regulatory action to prevent any recurrence.
Under Delaware’s corporate benefit doctrine, a stockholder who presents a meritorious claim to a board of directors may be entitled to attorneys’ fees if the stockholder’s efforts result in the conferring of a corporate benefit.  On June 20, 2014, the Delaware Chancery Court considered in Raul v. Astoria Financial Corporation  whether attorneys’ fees are warranted under this doctrine when a stockholder identifies potential deficiencies in executive compensation disclosures required by the SEC pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act “say on pay” provisions.  The court held that the alleged omissions at issue failed to demonstrate any breach of the Board of Directors’ fiduciary duties under Delaware law and accordingly the Plaintiff did not present a meritorious demand to the Board. This decision makes clear that the courts will not shift fees to a stockholder (and the stockholder’s law firm) who “has simply done the company a good turn by bringing to the attention of the board an action that it ultimately decides to take.” 
Dealers and major participants play a crucial role in the derivatives market, a market that has been estimated to exceed $710 trillion worldwide, of which more than $14 trillion represents transactions in security-based swaps. In the United States, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) and the SEC share responsibility for regulating the derivatives market. Out of the total derivatives market, the SEC is responsible for regulating security-based swaps. As evidenced in the most recent financial crisis, the unregulated derivatives market had devastating effects on our economy and U.S. investors. In response to this crisis, Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Act and directed both the CFTC and SEC to promulgate an effective regulatory framework to oversee the derivatives market.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”), the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (“Dodd-Frank”) and the Consumer Financial Protection Act (“CFPA”) impose overlapping anti-retaliation provisions that generally prohibit retaliation against corporate “whistleblowers.” Recent headlines of whistleblower awards granted to individuals, especially under Dodd-Frank, underscore the fact that, even if a company’s economic exposure arising from the alleged violation of these provisions may be relatively circumscribed—generally limited to amounts based on the compensation of the employee who is allegedly retaliated against—the “real world” exposure, in the form of reputational and regulatory risk, can be significantly greater.
The Dodd-Frank Act was undoubtedly a thorough re-working of the regulatory paradigm for banks and other financial institutions. But no less resolute are the intentions of U.S. banking regulators to carry regulatory reform further, based in significant part on perceived “macroprudential” authority after Dodd-Frank. The new regulatory paradigm will increasingly leave behind bank regulation’s traditional moorings in the protection of federally insured deposits and safe and sound operation of banking organizations. Instead, “macroprudential” regulation will rest on the goals of protecting U.S. financial stability and reducing systemic risk—broad, malleable concepts that elude precise definition. It will seek to influence activities not just of banking organizations but also activities conducted by non-bank entities not traditionally subject to prudential regulation. And, according to an important speech given last week by Federal Reserve Governor Daniel K. Tarullo, the new regulatory paradigm embraces consideration of a potentially unprecedented expansion of the fiduciary duties of directors of banking institutions. This would give such directors very potent incentives to prioritize supervisory goals—including macroprudential objectives.
In May 2014, the Federal Reserve issued a proposal that would implement the financial sector concentration limit set forth in Section 622 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The proposal reflects the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s January 2011 Study and Recommendations Regarding Concentration Limits on Large Financial Companies.
The concentration limit generally prohibits a financial company from merging or consolidating with, acquiring all or substantially all of the assets of, or otherwise acquiring control of another company if the “liabilities” of the resulting financial company, calculated using methodologies in the proposal, exceed 10% of aggregate financial sector liabilities.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“Sarbanes-Oxley”) was enacted following the accounting scandals of the early 2000s involving Enron, WorldCom and other public companies. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”) in 2010 following the global credit crisis that began a few years earlier. Both statutes offer protections for employees who face retaliation for “blowing the whistle” on corporate misconduct, and Dodd-Frank also provides enhanced monetary incentives to the employees who do so. Given the SEC’s recent and often-stated commitment to strict enforcement of the securities laws, coupled with the fact that the SEC has received over 6,000 whistleblower complaints in the past two years (and has made six awards since inception of its whistleblower reward program in 2011), whistleblowing activity now is a fact of corporate life that is likely to become even more prevalent as awareness spreads of the Dodd-Frank whistleblower reward program.
On April 14, 2014, in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit partially invalidated the final rule of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requiring public companies to investigate and disclose the origin of certain minerals found in the war-ridden Congo region (“conflict minerals”).  While upholding most aspects of the rule, the Court concluded that the rule and the statutory provisions on which it is based 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.’”  On April 29, 2014, amid uncertainty regarding the impact of the Court’s decision on issuers’ obligations under the rule, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance announced that the SEC expects issuers to comply with those aspects of the rule that were upheld by the Court.
“Mandated disclosure may be the most common and least successful regulatory technique in American law.” Thus opens our book, More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure (Princeton Press, 2014).
Of mandated disclosure’s triumph there is no doubt. This blog’s readers see it everywhere. Corporate scandals and financial crises ceaselessly spawn new disclosure laws: the Securities Act of 1933, the Truth-in-Lending laws of the 60s and 70s, Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002, and, recently, Dodd-Frank. Disclosure pervades tort law (“duty to warn”), consumer protection (“truth in lending”), bioethics and health care (“informed consent”), online contracting (“opportunity to read”), food law (“nutrition data”), campaign finance regulation, privacy protection, insurance regulation, and more.
This triumph is understandable. Mandated disclosure aspires to help people making complex decisions while dealing with specialists by requiring the latter (disclosers) to give the former (disclosees) information so that disclosees choose sensibly and disclosers do not abuse their position. It is seductively plausible. (Don’t people make poor decisions because they have poor information? Won’t they make good decisions with good information?) It alluringly fits all ideologies. (Thaler and Sunstein like it because it is “libertarian paternalistic”; corporations would “rather disclose than be regulated”). So mandates are enacted unopposed. Literally.