Anyone paying the slightest amount of attention recognizes that the U.S. political system is performing poorly. Washington is gripped by extreme partisanship, which prevents Congress from conducting even routine business, and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches is near historic lows. But as I argue in my new book, Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust, the problem with the nation’s politics is even deeper than the daily headlines suggest. There is limited transparency surrounding money and politics, and many institutions that in the past could counterbalance the power of the wealthy and other special interests have grown weak. It is difficult for financially strapped news organizations to provide quality coverage of government, and political parties have become heavily dependent on a relatively small number of wealthy and well-connected people for campaign contributions.
Posts Tagged ‘Transparency’
Earlier this week, the SEC adopted significant changes to Regulation AB, which governs the offering process and disclosure and periodic reporting requirements for public offerings of asset-backed securities, including residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS). The revisions to Regulation AB were a long time coming—they were first proposed in 2010 and have drawn several rounds of comments from industry participants. Issuers must comply with the new rules no later than one year after publication in the Federal Registrar (or two years in the case of the asset-level disclosure requirements described below). The new rules do not address “risk retention” by sponsors which is the subject of a separate rule-making process.
The Million-Comment-Letter Petition: The Rulemaking Petition on Disclosure of Political Spending Attracts More than 1,000,000 SEC Comment Letters
In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee of ten corporate and securities law experts that petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. We are delighted to announce that, as reflected in the SEC’s webpage for comments filed on our petition, the SEC has now received more than a million comment letters regarding the petition. To our knowledge, the petition has attracted far more comments than any other SEC rulemaking petition—or, indeed, than any other issue on which the Commission has accepted public comment—in the history of the SEC.
On June 25, 2014, the UK Government published the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill  which, among other things, proposes that all UK companies (other than publicly traded companies reporting under the Disclosure and Transparency Rules (DTR5)) be required to maintain a register of people who have significant control over the company. The Bill is part of the UK Government’s initiative to implement the G8 Action Plan to prevent the misuse of companies and legal arrangements agreed at the Lough Erne G8 Summit in June 2013, which we discussed in our client alert entitled “Through the Looking Glass: The Disclosure of Ultimate Ownership and the G8 Action Plan” (June 20, 2013).  In broad terms, the G8 Action Plan is designed to ensure the integrity of beneficial ownership and basic company information and the timely access to that information by law enforcement and tax authorities.
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.
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.