Corporate law generally makes voting power proportional to economic ownership. This serves several goals. Economic ownership gives shareholders an incentive to exercise voting power well. The coupling of votes and shares makes possible the market for corporate control. The power of economic owners to elect directors is also a core basis for the legitimacy of managerial authority. Both theory and evidence generally support the importance of linking votes to economic interest. Yet the derivatives revolution and other capital markets developments now allow both outside investors and insiders to readily decouple economic ownership of shares from voting rights. This decoupling, which we call the “new vote buying,” has emerged as a worldwide issue in the past several years. It is largely hidden from public view and mostly untouched by current regulation.
The new millennium ushered in a parade of corporate scandals. The succession of scandals, which began with the collapse of Enron, revealed a deep-seated pattern of disregard for shareholders’ interests. In response to these events and the widespread public outcry that ensued, Congress examined corporate board structure and senior management and passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) in 2002 to try to remedy problems of accountability. Even after SOX was passed, corporate governance experts continued to study the role of a board of directors and how that role may be modified in order to prevent future scandals and to protect shareholders adequately. They have analyzed many aspects of the board, ranging from the size, to whether the chief executive officer (“CEO”) should be the chairman, to the importance of truly independent directors.
A corporate inversion is a paper transaction in which an American corporation reincorporates in a foreign nation without moving any of its operations to that country. The principle reason that a corporation will invert is to save money on taxes, in some cases as much as $60 million annually. Politicians, believing these companies are reincorporating in a foreign country to evade taxes, have introduced numerous bills to try to stop these companies from moving overseas. Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, stated that he plans to stop inversions within 500 days of his election to office. These corporations, however, have demonstrated that they will not give up these tax savings without a fight. Leucadia National Corp., a company that underwent an inversion in 2002, has hired a high-priced lobbying firm to block congressional efforts to stop inversions.
Securities markets are commonly assumed to spring forth at the intersection of an adequate supply of, and a healthy demand for, investment capital. In recent years, however, seemingly failed market transitions—the failure of new markets to emerge and of existing markets to evolve—have called this assumption into question. From the developed economies of Germany and Japan to the developing countries of central and eastern Europe, securities markets have exhibited some inability to take root. The failure of U.S. securities markets, and particularly the New York Stock Exchange, to make greater use of computerized trading, communications, and processing technologies, meanwhile, seems to suggest some market resistance to technological modernization. In light of this pattern, one must wonder: How are strong markets created and maintained, and what might be law’s role in this process?
This Article attempts to articulate a model for understanding the needs of efficient market transition and the resulting role of law in that process. Specifically, it suggests a “cueing” function for law in market transition. Grounded in largely ignored lessons of game theory and in the microeconomic analysis of so-called network effects, cueing theory identifies the coordination of market participants’ expectations as law’s central role in market transition. Building on recent legal literature on private regulation, social norms, and the expressive function of law, this theory suggests that in securities market transition—whether it be market creation in central and eastern Europe or market restructuring in the United States—law primarily serves to convene, encourage, inform, and facilitate.
The recent crisis in the wake of the Enron debacle has demonstrated the importance of enlisting gatekeepers – such as accountants, underwriters, and lawyers – to prevent corporate fraud. But while a consensus may exist over the basic need to expand liability to gatekeepers, little is known about the appropriate scope of such liability. Going beyond the capital-market context, this Article develops a framework to determine the scope of gatekeeper liability for client misconduct. Specifically, the Article analyzes the fundamental tradeoff between the potentially adverse impact of gatekeeper liability on relevant markets and the incentives such liability provides for gatekeepers to foil wrongdoing. Expanding the scope of their liability will make gatekeepers increase the price of their services to reflect their liability exposure. Although initially appealing as a means to screen out wrongdoers, this price increase may turn out to have adverse consequences when clients vary with respect to their wrongful intentions: Rather than screen out wrongdoers, gatekeeper liability may drive out only law-abiding clients. Enhanced liability, however, will also induce gatekeepers to monitor clients and prevent them from committing misconduct. The Article explores the policy implications of this analysis for determining which third parties should face gatekeeper liability, identifying the adequate scope of gatekeeper liability, and recognizing the shortcomings of gatekeeper liability as an instrument of social policy. The Article concludes by putting forward a tentative outline of the proper regime of gatekeeper liability for securities fraud.