Yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness released this report titled “Examining U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Enforcement: Recommendations on Current Processes and Practices.”
Based on a yearlong effort that included surveys and interviews of a diverse group of in-house counsels, securities lawyers, and former SEC staff, the report “looks at the enforcement practices of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and provides recommendations on how to improve the process for all participants.” (See here for the Chamber press release).
Other than a few survey responses, there is nothing in the report specific to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. However, there is much in the report that is relevant to FCPA enforcement.
For instance, as highlighted in this 2014 FCPA year in review article, of the seven SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions in 2014, six (86%) were resolved through SEC administrative orders.
Regarding the problematic surge in SEC administrative actions, the Chamber report states that “the fundamental problem in the use of an administrative forum to break new ground is the inherent risk of an unchecked expansion of existing legal policy that is not adequately overseen by a truly impartial third-party judicial forum.”
Against this backdrop, the report makes a number of recommendations relevant to SEC administrative actions that, at their core, propose “that the Commission adopt a policy to refrain from using its administrative forum as an avenue to adopt new interpretations of the federal securities laws or to apply existing interpretations to new or unique factual circumstances.”
Another recommendation in the report that caught my eye was the following: “The Commission should take a leadership role among regulatory bodies at the federal, state, and international levels to reduce or eliminate duplicative and overlapping investigations and duplicative enforcement actions for the same conduct.”
As stated in the report:
“When companies respond to allegations of improper activities, management’s focus is necessarily diverted from the day-to-day running of its business. That is an ineluctable attribute of doing business in a regulated society. But, there should be some understanding on government’s part that, in the current era, firms are frequently subject to multiple domestic and foreign regulators. Responding to multiple regulators with respect to the same conduct or transaction is not, and should not be allowed to become, a regular attribute of doing business. It is counterproductive—and damaging to shareholders—to subject firms and individuals serially to multiple SEC inquiries or multiple regulators and self regulators for the same alleged misconduct.”
A good place to eliminate duplicative regulation is to have the SEC stop enforcing the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.
As I’ve previously stated, should this reform occur, it could be called “granting the wish” because as highlighted in the article “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” the SEC never wanted any role in enforcing the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. However, congressional leaders at the time of the FCPA’s enactment had a high level of distrust with the Justice Department and insisted, against the SEC’s objections both when the FCPA was enacted in 1977 and when it was first amended in 1988, that it play a role in enforcing the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.
For additional reading on divesting the SEC of its authority to enforce the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, see here from former DOJ FCPA enforcement attorney Philip Urofsky and here from Professor Barbara Black.