What Does The SEC Do And What Is Its Purpose?
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As I write about the myriad of constantly changing and progressing securities law-related policies, rules, regulations, guidance and issues, I am reminded that sometimes it is important to go back and explain certain key facts to lay a proper foundation for an understanding of the topics which layer on this foundation. In this blog, I am doing just that by explaining what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is and its purpose. Most of information in this blog comes from the SEC website, which is an extremely useful resource for practitioners, issuers, investors and all market participants.
The mission of the SEC is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets and facilitate capital formation. Although each mission should be a priority, the reality is that the focus of the SEC changes based on its Chair and Commissioners and political pressure. Outgoing Chair Mary Jo White viewed the SEC enforcement division and task of investor protection as her top priority. Jay Clayton will likely shift the top priority to capital formation.
In addition to regulating and overseeing the processes involved in capital formation (registration and exemptions), the SEC regulates the market participants themselves, including securities exchanges, brokers and dealers, investment advisors, investment companies, issuers and investors, and civilly enforces the law as to each of these participants. Related to securities exchanges, brokers and dealers and investment advisors, the SEC is primarily concerned with disclosure, fair dealing and protecting against fraud. The SEC brings hundreds of enforcement proceedings each year. For a review of the SEC 2016 enforcement results, see my blog HERE.
The federal securities laws are based on the premise that all investors, whether large institutions or private individuals, should have access to disclosure and information about an investment both before they buy it and during the time they hold the investment. The public company reporting requirements are designed to provide meaningful, comparable information and data about public companies so that investors can conduct due diligence and make an analysis as to whether to buy, sell or hold a particular security.
In order to be effective in its mission in an ever-changing global economy, the SEC must stay connected with market participants and their needs, and be abreast of, and utilize, technological advances. Moreover, the SEC considers the education of investors as a key component to its mission. Educated investors make better decisions. The majority of leads and ultimate evidence on wrongdoing come from investors themselves and, as such, better educated investors provide a more useful resource for enforcement.
The SEC was formed as a response to the stock market crash of October 1929 and the following period of the Great Depression. First, Congress passed the Securities Act of 1933, which was designed to regulate disclosure and truth in the purchase and sale of securities. Second, Congress passed the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which created the SEC and was designed to regulate the people who sell and trade securities, including public companies, brokers, dealers and exchanges. Joseph Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s father, was the first Chairman of the SEC.
The SEC is controlled by five commissioners appointed by the president. Each commissioner serves a five-year term and the terms are staggered as to the individual commissioners. One of the commissioners is designated as the chairman by the president. By law, and in an effort to ensure bipartisan policies, no more than three of the commissioners can belong to the same political party.
The SEC is divided into five divisions and 23 offices, all of which are headquartered in Washington, D.C., although there are 11 regional offices throughout the country. A brief summary of each division follows.
Division of Corporation Finance
The Division of Corporation Finance (CorpFin) oversees disclosure documents filed by companies with the SEC, including, for example, registration statements on Form S-1, 1-A or Form 10, SEC reports on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and proxy materials related to annual and special shareholder meetings. CorpFin routinely reviews the documents filed with the SEC and may provide comments on the filings. For information on responding to SEC comments, see my blog HERE.
CorpFin provides administrative interpretations and guidance on the federal securities laws for the public and makes specific recommendations to the SEC for rule implementation and changes. In addition to the more formal written no-action letter process, CorpFin maintains staff that is available to answer calls by potential issuers and investors to provide guidance and interpretations on the federal securities laws, including related to whether a particular offering would qualify for an exemption from the registration requirements. CorpFin also works with the Office of Chief Accountant to monitor accounting activities, including the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which formulates generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
Division of Enforcement
The Division of Enforcement conducts investigations and brings civil and administrative proceedings on behalf of the SEC to enforce the federal securities laws. The Division of Enforcement is not itself a criminal prosecutory authority but does work with law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Justice and Attorney General offices around the U.S. to recommend and assist with criminal cases.
All SEC investigations are private. Once an investigation is completed, the SEC will decide to take no action, pursue a civil complaint or pursue an administrative proceeding. Matters that may result in civil or administrative proceedings are often settled first. Although this firm does not represent clients in enforcement proceedings, I have written about the topic in general on numerous occasions. For further reading on enforcement penalties, see HERE. Related to the SEC Whistleblower program, see HERE. For reading related to the SEC’s efforts to prevent microcap fraud, see HERE.
Division of Trading and Markets
The Division of Trading and Markets is responsible for the SEC’s role of maintaining fair, orderly and efficient markets. In executing its duties, the Division provides daily oversight of major market participants, including the securities exchanges, broker-dealers, self-regulatory organizations including FINRA and the MSRB, clearing agencies, transfer agents, securities information processors and credit rating agencies. This Division also oversees the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which provides insurance against loss in customer accounts due to the bankruptcy or other overall failure of brokerage firms. SIPC does not ensure against individual losses from market declines or negligent or fraudulent broker conduct.
The Division of Trading and Markets also assists with financial integrity programs for broker-dealers, reviewing rules proposed by self-regulatory organizations, drafting and proposing rules and interpretations related to market operations and surveilling the markets.
Division of Investment Management
The Division of Investment Management helps oversee the investment management industry, including mutual funds, fund managers, analysts and investment advisors. The Division of Investment Management is responsible for both investor protection and promoting capital formation in the industry balancing between disclosure by funds and limiting regulatory costs that ultimately reduce gains.
The Division of Investment Management assists the SEC in promulgating and interpreting laws and regulations in the investment management industry, responds to no-action letter and exemptive relief requests, reviews investment company and investment advisor filings with the SEC, and assists in enforcement proceedings.
Division of Economic and Risk Analysis
The Division of Economic and Risk Analysis helps with all aspects of the SEC’s mission through its economic analysis and data analytics. This Division interacts with all other divisions and offices of the SEC, providing economic and risk analyses related to policymaking, rulemaking, enforcement and examinations. The Division also provides advance risk assessments as to litigation, examinations, registrants reviews and general economic support.
Offices of the SEC
The SEC has several offices that perform functions related to the SEC’s overall mission, including, but not limited to, the Office of General Counsel, the Office of the Chief Accountant, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, the Office of Credit Ratings, the Office of International Affairs, the Office of Municipal Securities, the Office of Ethics Counsel, the Office of the Investor Advocate, the Office of Women and Minority Inclusion, the Office of the Chief Operating Officer, the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, the Office of Public Affairs, the Office of the Secretary, the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Administrative Law Judges, a few of which deserve explanation.
The General Counsel, as part of the Office of the General Counsel, is appointed by the Chairman, is the chief legal officer of the SEC and provides legal advice and counsel to all divisions, other offices, commissioners and the Chairman on all matters within the SEC’s jurisdiction. The General Counsel office also represents the SEC in all civil and administrative litigation matters.
The Chief Accountant, as part of the Office of the Chief Accountant, is also appointed by the Chairman and advises the SEC on all accounting and auditing matters, including approving PCAOB auditing rules. In addition, the Office of the Chief Accountant assists the SEC in establishing accounting principles and overseeing the private sector accounting standards-setting process. The Chief Accountant liaises with FASB, which in turn establishes GAAP. It also liaises with the PCAOB, the International Accounting Standards Board and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
The Office of Investor Education and Advocacy responds to questions, complaints and suggestions from the public. The Office also publishes information and holds seminars and other outreach educational programs to educate the public on the securities laws and their rights.
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Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provides ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, OTC and exchange traded issuers as well as private companies going public on the NASDAQ, NYSE MKT or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For nearly two decades Legal & Compliance, LLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service. The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-8 and S-4; compliance with the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; Regulation A/A+ offerings; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers, ; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including NASDAQ and NYSE MKT; crowdfunding; corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Moreover, Ms. Anthony and her firm represents both target and acquiring companies in reverse mergers and forward mergers, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. Ms. Anthony’s legal team prepares the necessary documentation and assists in completing the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA and DTC for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the OTC Market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.com, the securities law network. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.
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