During a March 9, 2021 industry conference, one of the four current U.S. Securities and Exchange (“SEC”) commissioners floated a new approach to calculating penalties for corporate misconduct.  Caroline A. Crenshaw, who was tapped by President Donald Trump last June to fill one of the Democratic slots on the Commission, told attendees at the Council of Institutional Investors virtual conference that the SEC needed to revisit its approach to assessing corporate penalties, and implement a new approach that tailored penalties to the “egregiousness of the actual misconduct,” accounted for all benefits of the misconduct that accrued to the corporation, and eliminated consideration of potential adverse impacts on shareholders.  If ultimately accepted by the Commission, Crenshaw’s proposed approach would likely result in materially greater penalties for corporate misconduct.
Continue Reading SEC Commissioner Calls for a Brave New Approach to Corporate Penalties

On March 4, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced the formation of a Climate and ESG Task Force in the Division of Enforcement (the “Task Force”).  The Task Force will be aimed at detecting ESG-related misconduct so that investors can fully consider these issues in their investment decisions.
Continue Reading SEC Going Cyber-Hunting for ESG-Related Misconduct

On November 19, 2020, Peter Driscoll, director of the Office of Compliance Inspection and Examination (“OCIE”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), gave a speech urging advisory firms to empower their Chief Compliance Officers (“CCOs”).  The speech, made at the SEC’s annual compliance outreach conference, accompanied OCIE’s Risk Alert, issued the same day, identifying notable deficiencies and weaknesses regarding Registered Investment Advisors (“RIAs”) CCOs and compliance departments.  Driscoll’s speech complemented the Risk Alert by outlining the fundamental requirements for CCOs:  “empowered, senior and with authority.”
Continue Reading OCIE Director Instructs Advisers to Empower Chief Compliance Officers

A Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) plan to create a registration exemption for certain finders has generated a mixed response.  The nearly 90 comments received by the SEC by the November 12, 2020 close of the comment period reflect a clear divide along predictable lines.  Broker-dealers, issuers, and some practitioners lauded the proposal for bringing regulatory clarity to what has long been a cloudy issue while regulatory groups and investor advocates criticized the plan for allowing unregistered finders to conduct brokerage activities without sufficient investor protection mechanisms.
Continue Reading SEC Proposal to Exempt Finders from Registration Generates Split Reaction

On September 10, 2020, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued the latest in a series of circulars regarding corporate compliance released this summer by government agencies. In June, the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued updated guidance regarding its evaluation of corporate compliance programs (see our prior blog here). In July, DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) jointly issued an updated Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which includes a 12-part section covering the “hallmarks” of effective corporate compliance programs. The instant CFTC guidance is the first issued by CFTC on this topic. The guidance signals to commodities market participants that compliance programs that do not meet guideline standards are fair game for CFTC examination and enforcement staff.
Continue Reading CFTC Throws its Hat into the Corporate Compliance Arena

In Liu v. Securities & Exchange Comm’n, No. 18-1501, 2020 WL 3405845 (U.S. June 22, 2020), the United States Supreme Court upheld the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to seek disgorgement as an equitable remedy under 15 U.S.C. § 78u(d)(5), so long as it “does not exceed a wrongdoer’s net profits and is awarded for victims.”  Although Liu preserved the SEC’s disgorgement powers as a general matter, it narrowed the criteria for appropriate equitable relief, effectively curtailing the SEC’s ability to pursue unduly broad disgorgement remedies.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Preserves But Limits SEC Disgorgement Power

In New York Stock Exchange LLC v. Securities & Exch. Comm., 2020 WL 3248902 (D.C. Cir. June 16, 2020), the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit invalidated the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) experimental transaction fee pilot program to study the market effects of broker-dealer incentive programs used by domestic stock exchanges.  The Court of Appeals held that the SEC lacked the authority under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) to compel the exchanges to conduct what amounted to a “costly experiment” to see how the fees these exchanges charge and the incentives they offer “might” affect the trading habits of market participants.  The ruling demonstrates a judicial willingness to curb the SEC’s rulemaking authority under the Exchange Act for merely experimental policies.
Continue Reading DC Circuit Repudiates SEC Program for Testing Exchange Fee Structures

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has impacted publicly traded companies that provide information to trading markets, shareholders and to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Companies need to be mindful with respect to disclosures in annual and quarterly reports, earnings releases, current reports, and public and private securities offering documents.
Continue Reading Coronavirus and Guidance on SEC Disclosures

On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted amendments to the definition of “accelerated filer” and “large accelerated filer” definitions in Exchange Act Rule 12b-2, which amendments will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and will apply to annual report filings due on or after such effective date.
Continue Reading SEC Amends Definitions of “Accelerated Filer” and “Large Accelerated Filer” and Provides Relief to Small Issuers from Auditor Attestation Requirements

On August 14, 2018, the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a cease and desist order (the “Tomahawk Order”) against Tomahawk Exploration LLC (“Tomahawk”) and David Thompson Laurance (“Laurance”) for their actions in connection with an initial coin offering of digital assets called “Tomahawkcoins” or “TOM” (the “Tomahawk ICO”). Tomahawk and Laurance’s actions were problematic for the same reasons cited by the SEC in other recent orders related to digital assets (e.g. the Munchee Order). Consistent with such orders, the SEC determined that Tomahawkcoins are securities because they constitute investment contracts under the “Howey” test. However, what makes the Tomahawk Order particularly noteworthy are the lessons to be gleaned regarding cryptocurrency “airdropping.”
Continue Reading Airdrop of Crypto Tokens Hits Regulatory Flak

The SEC has opined that, depending on the facts and circumstances of each individual ICO, the virtual coins or tokens that are offered or sold may be securities. If they are securities, the offer and sale of these virtual coins or tokens in an ICO are subject to the federal securities laws.
Continue Reading SEC Declares That Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) May Be Securities; Finds DAO a Security