Over the past several years, judicial decisions involving Citizens United, McCutcheon and SpeechNow.org have lifted caps on total political contributions, and also expanded the number of avenues through and amounts which companies can lawfully contribute to political campaigns. Corporate donations can still be made to recipients like political action committees and third-party organizations (such as trade associations). Now, however, companies can also contribute directly to campaigns and to organizations that support candidates and political causes, including Section 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations.
Posts Tagged ‘Transparency’
Today [July 23, 2014], the Commission considers adopting long-considered reforms to the rules governing money market funds. I commend the hard work of the staff, particularly the Division of Investment Management and the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis (“DERA”), who worked tirelessly to present these thoughtful and deliberate amendments. It is well known that the journey to arrive at the amendments considered today was a difficult one, and I can confidently say that this has been, at times, perhaps one of the most flawed and controversial rulemaking processes the Commission has undertaken.
Mary Jo White, the Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), recently delivered two speeches with important implications for the future structure of U.S. equity markets. The first (discussed on the Forum here), delivered on June 5, 2014, discussed various initiatives to improve equity market structure. The second (discussed on the Forum here), delivered on June 20, 2014, addressed the importance of intermediation in the securities markets and the roles that technology and competition play with respect to various types of market intermediaries such as exchanges, dark pools, brokers and dealers. In both speeches, Chair White expressed her belief that the equity markets are not rigged or fundamentally unfair, but nevertheless could—with updated or different regulations—function more efficiently and with even greater fairness than they currently do.
Many financial markets have recently become subject to new regulations requiring transparency. In our recent NBER working paper, The Effects of Mandatory Transparency in Financial Market Design: Evidence from the Corporate Bond Market, we study how mandatory transparency affects trading in the corporate bond market. In July 2002, the Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (TRACE) program began requiring the public dissemination of post-trade price and volume information for corporate bonds. Dissemination took place in four phases over a three-and-a-half year period, with actively traded, investment grade bonds becoming transparent before thinly traded, high-yield bonds.
It is great to be here with you in New York to speak about our equity market structure and how we can enhance it.
While I know your views on particular issues may differ, you all certainly appreciate that investors and public companies benefit greatly from robust and resilient equity markets.
During my first year as Chair, not surprisingly, I have heard a wide range of perspectives on equity market structure, reflecting its inherent complexity, the relationships among many core issues, as well as the different business models of market participants. To frame the SEC’s review of these issues, I set out last fall certain fundamentals for addressing market structure policy. One of those is the importance of data and empirically based decision-making. At that time, we launched an interactive public website devoted to market structure data and analysis drawn from a range of sources. The website has grown to include work by SEC staff on important market structure topics, including the nature of trading in dark venues, market fragmentation, and high-frequency trading.
Corporate governance has always been an important topic. It is even more so today, as many Americans recognize the need to develop a more robust corporate governance regime in the aftermath of the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Although the recent financial crisis—aptly named the “Great Recession”—has many fathers, there is ample evidence that poor corporate governance, including weak risk management standards at many financial institutions, contributed to the devastation wrought by the crisis. For example, it has been reported that senior executives at both AIG and Merrill Lynch tried to warn their respective management teams of excessive exposure to subprime mortgages, but were rebuffed or ignored. These and other failures of oversight continue to remind us that good corporate governance is essential to the stability of our capital markets and our economy, as well as the protection of investors.
In our Age of Communication, confidential information is more easily exposed than ever before. Real-time communication tools and social media give everyone with Internet access the ability to publicize information widely, and confidential information is always at risk of inadvertent or intentional exposure. The current cultural emphasis on transparency and disclosure—punctuated by headline news of high-profile leakers and whistleblowers, and exacerbated in the corporate context by aggressive activist shareholders and their director nominees—has contributed to an atmosphere in which sensitive corporate information is increasingly difficult to protect. There is limited statutory or case law to guide boards and directors in this area, and there exists a range of opinions among market participants and media commentators as to whether leaking information (other than illegal insider tipping) is problematic at all.
The SEC’s recent decision to take disclosure of political activities off the SEC’s agenda is a policy mistake, as it ignores the best research on the point, described below, and perpetuates a key loophole in the investor-relevant disclosure rules, allowing large companies to omit material information about the politically inflected risks they run with other people’s money. It is also a political mistake, as it repudiates the 600,000+ investors who have written to the SEC personally to ask it to adopt a rule requiring such disclosure, and will let entrenched business interests focus their lobbying solely on watering down regulation mandated under the Dodd-Frank Act and the 2012 securities law statute, rather than having also to work to influence a disclosure regime.
Recent events suggest that shareholders pay attention to matters involving the personal lives of CEOs and take this information into account when making investment decisions. In our paper, Separation Anxiety: The Impact of CEO Divorce on Shareholders, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine the impact that CEO divorce can have on a corporation.
There are at least three potential ways in which a CEO divorce might impact a corporation and its shareholders. The first is loss of control or influence. A CEO with a significant ownership stake in a company might be forced to sell or transfer a portion of this stake to satisfy the terms of a divorce settlement. This can reduce the influence that he or she has over the organization and impact decisions regarding corporate strategy, asset ownership, and board composition. Shareholder reaction to loss of control will vary, depending on the view that investors have of CEO performance and governance quality. If they view performance and governance quality favorably, they will react negatively to the news; if they view management as entrenched or a poor steward of assets, they will react positively. Shareholder reaction will also depend in part on what happens to divested shares, including whether they are transferred to the spouse, sold in a block to a third-party, or dispersed in the general market. Each of these can shape the future governance of a firm.
Last week the Securities and Exchange Commission released its regulatory agenda, and this agenda no longer includes rules requiring public companies to disclose their spending on politics. The agenda now includes only overdue rules that the SEC is required to develop under Dodd-Frank and the JOBS Act. While we are disappointed by the SEC’s decision to delay its consideration of rules requiring disclosure of corporate political spending, we hope that the SEC will consider such rules as soon as it is able to devote resources to rulemaking other than that required by Dodd-Frank and the JOBS Act. The submissions to the SEC over the past two years have clearly demonstrated the compelling case and large support for requiring such disclosure.
We co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law professors that filed a rulemaking petition urging the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their spending on politics. In the two years since the petition was submitted, the SEC has received more than 600,000 comment letters on our petition—more than on any other rulemaking project in the Commission’s history. The overwhelming majority of these comments—including letters from institutional investors and Members of Congress—have been supportive of the petition. At the end of 2012, the Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance acknowledged the widespread support for the petition, and the Commission placed the rulemaking petition on its regulatory agenda for 2013.