SEC enforcement trends

Due to an increase in the number of enforcement actions resulting from an agency initiative during the year, the number of enforcement actions brought by the SEC against public companies was at the highest level in at least ten years, according to a recent report. The report, entitled “SEC Enforcement Activity: Public Companies and Subsidiaries Fiscal Year 2019 Update,” which can be found here, was prepared by the NYU Pollack Center for Law & Business and Cornerstone Research. According to the report, the agency’s public company enforcement action monetary recoveries during the fiscal year were consistent with long-term averages.  Cornerstone Research’s November 20, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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The SEC’s Enforcement Division had another active enforcement year in fiscal 2019, which ended September 30, 2019, that resulted in substantial recoveries. According to the Division’s latest annual report, the agency pursued more enforcement actions in fiscal 2019, including more standalone actions, than in the past several years. The agency’s enforcement action monetary recoveries, including both penalties and disgorgement, also were at the highest level in years. As the report points out, the agency maintained this level of activity and recoveries despite a number of factors – what the report describes as “significant headwinds” — that constrained the agency’s efforts and recoveries. The Enforcement Division’s November 6, 2019 annual report can be found here. The agency’s November 6, 2019 press release about the report can be found here.
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Driven in significant part by the new actions filed as part of the SEC’s Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative, the number of SEC enforcement actions against public companies and subsidiaries remained at “near-record levels” in the first half of fiscal year 2018, according to a recent report. The report, published by Cornerstone Research in collaboration with the NYU Pollack Center for Law & Business and entitled “SEC Enforcement Activity: Public Companies and Subsidiaries Midyear FY 2019 Update,” states that the enforcement activity levels in the first half of FY 2019 continued “a resurgence of activity that began in the second half of FY 2018.” The report can be found here. A May 15, 2019 press release describing the report can be found here.
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On March 26, 2019, the SEC announced that it was awarding two whistleblowers a total of $50 million for providing the agency with information that led to a successful enforcement action. The two awards consisted of an award to one individual of $13 million and an award to a second individual of $37million. The $37 million award is the third largest award in the history of the SEC’s whistleblower program. The SEC’s March 26, 2019 press release announcing the awards can be found here. The SEC’s whistleblower award order can be found here.
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The SEC Whistleblower Program had a “record-breaking year” during the 2018 fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2018, according the latest annual report from the agency’s Office of the Whistleblower. During the fiscal year, the agency not only made total awards exceeding the aggregate amount awarded in the entire prior history of the program, but it also made the largest separate awards in the program’s existence. The number of whistleblower reports during the fiscal year also increased over 20 percent, the largest annual increase in the number of reports in the program’s history. The SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower’s 2018 Annual Report can be found here.
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In February 2018, the SEC updated its cybersecurity disclosure guidelines for reporting companies, emphasizing the importance to investors and markets for prompt and robust disclosure relating to cyber issues. Indeed, in April, the agency brought its first enforcement action relating to cybersecurity enforcement issues. In its recent annual report, the agency’s enforcement division emphasized that cybersecurity disclosure is a priority issue. Clearly, public company’s cybersecurity-related disclosure practices are receiving a great deal of attention and scrutiny.

But what are public companies actually doing in terms of cybersecurity disclosures? A recent study by EY took a look at the actual cybersecurity disclosure practices. Their analysis shows that cybersecurity-related disclosure practices “vary widely,” suggesting there is an “opportunity for enhancement.” The October 22, 2018 report, entitled “Cybersecurity Disclosure Benchmarking,” can be found here.
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Both the volume of SEC enforcement activity and the level of financial recoveries increased in the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2018, according to the agency’s annual enforcement activity report. The increases came after activity had been down in the prior year, the first year under the current presidential administration. However, the agency’s enforcement chiefs cautioned against placing too much weight on the numbers alone. The report contains some interesting signs of what we might expect in the current fiscal year. The SEC’s enforcement report can be found here. The agency’s November 2, 2018 press release about the report can be found here.
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John Reed Stark

Most readers are undoubtedly familiar with the concept of “insider trading” – that is, the purchase or sale by company insiders of their personal holdings in company shares based on material non-public information. Readers may be less familiar with “outsider trading,” which is trading in shares of a company on the basis on material non-public information by individuals who do not qualify as insiders. In the following guest post, John Reed Stark, President of John Reed Stark Consulting and former Chief of the SEC’s Office of Internet Enforcement, takes a look at the SEC’s track record in this area and calls for the agency to reinforce its efforts to police outsider trading. A version of this article previously appeared on Securities Docket. I would like to thank John for his willingness to allow me to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is John’s article.
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John Reed Stark

 As I detailed in a post at the time (here), on Thursday last week, the SEC filed a securities fraud enforcement action against Tesla Chairman and CEO Elon Musk in connection with his now infamous tweets, in which he said he had “secured” funding to take the company private at a substantial premium over the company’s then-current share price. On Saturday, September 29, 2018, the SEC announced in a press release (here) that it had reached a settlement of the action with Musk, as well as in a separate action against Tesla filed simultaneously with the settlement. In the following guest post, John Reed Stark, the President of John Reed Stark Consulting and former Chief of the SEC’s Office of Internet Enforcement, takes a look at the SEC’s enforcement actions and settlements with Musk and Tesla and provides his insight about what these developments may signify as far as the SEC’s enforcement posture regarding communications on the Internet. A version of this article originally appeared on the Securities Docket. I would like to thank John for allowing me to publish his article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is John’s article.
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Elon Musk’s August 7, 2018 Tweets, in which he had “secured” funding to take Tesla private at a substantial premium over the then-current share price, have already produced a storm of controversy and a series of securities class action lawsuits against him and the company. The Tesla CEO’s now-infamous Tweets have now also led to a SEC enforcement action against him, in which the agency alleges that Musk’s statements in the Tweets were “false and/or misleading” because “he did not have an adequate basis in fact for making these assertions.” The agency seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement, civil penalties, and a bar prohibiting Musk from serving as an officer or director of any public company. The SEC’s complaint against Musk can be found here. The SEC’s September 27, 2018 press release about the enforcement action can be found here.
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