Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, & the SEC's Actions
To understand why governments are interested in regulating cryptocurrencies, background about their potential function is necessary.
To understand why governments are interested in regulating cryptocurrencies, background about their potential function is necessary.
In Freedom Watch, Inc. et al., v. Google, Inc. et al, No. 1:18-cv-02030, 2019 WL 1201549 (D.C. Cir. 2019), Freedom Watch, Inc., a non-profit public interest organization (“Freedom Watch”) and Laura Lommer, a social media user (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) brought an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Google, Inc., Facebook, Inc., Twitter, Inc., and Apple, Inc. (collectively, the “Defendants”) alleging that Defendants worked together to intentionally and willfully suppress politically conservative content. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of standing and for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The court granted the motion, stating that the Plaintiffs have failed to tie their concerns to colorable legal claims.
Are the search results we see on the Internet the actual result of our inquiry, or is each search curated to the individual’s preferences and beliefs? Biased Google searches and social media ads, and the power of Big Tech to influence results became a concern in the wake of the 2016 presidential election after reports surfaced that Russia pushed propaganda to social media users to influence voters. (NBC News). Further, politicians from Ted Cruz to Elizabeth Warren have also voiced broader concerns about Big Tech being able to silence free speech and suppress freedom of information by selectively targeting users with ads biased toward their beliefs. (The Verge). Public officials and social media moguls recognize there is a problem, but the question is how to regulate this data that is collected from users to create biased ads. Proposals have ranged from creating consumer privacy regulations to breaking up Big Tech’s market power or regulating them like utilities. Much of the focus in recent years has been on the former.
On March 11, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint containing a multitude of charges related to an alleged illegal stock distribution and market manipulation scheme against David Foley and others. See complaint. The complaint identifies four groups of defendants: David R. Foley, Lisa L. Foley, and Jeffrey A. Foley (collectively, the “Stock Issuers”); Nanotech Entertainment, Inc. (“NTEK”) and Nanotech Gaming, Inc. (“NTGL”), affiliates of the Stock Issuers; Bernnie L. Blankenship (the “Stock Promoter”); and River North Equity LLC, Edward M. Liceaga, and Michael A. Chavez, the unregistered broker-dealers.
On March 25, 2019 car rental giant Hertz Corporation filed a complaint against its former CEO (Mark Frissora), CFO (Elyse Douglas), and General Counsel (John Zimmerman) pursuant to its Compensation Recovery Policy (“Hertz Clawback Provisions”).Hertz Corp. v. Frissora, No. 2:19-cv-08927 (D.N.J. Mar. 25, 2019). In the complaint, Hertz invoked its Hertz Clawback Provisions against its three former executives to recover incentive compensation that was paid to the executives between 2011 and 2013. Id. at 1. Specifically, the Hertz Clawback Provisions, which were denoted in all three of the prior executives’ employment contracts, required its former executives to forfeit any previously awarded incentive compensation if their “gross negligence and misconduct” resulted in a restatement in the company’s financial statements.
The Delaware Chancery court, per Vice Chancellor Glasscock, issued an opinion in Vintage Rodeo Parent, LLC v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., 2019 WL 1223026 (Del. Ch. Mar. 14, 2019), which discussed the implications of Vintage’s inadvertent failure to meet a merger extension deadline. At stake was a $126.5 million breakup fee. The court held that the target, Rent-A-Center, had no duty to warn Vintage of the impending deadline. While the decision, which focuses on a strict reading of contractual duties is understandable, it fits uneasily with a prominent previous decision; it also seems to be missing a full analysis of the duty of good faith.
The Responsible Sourcing Network’s 2018 report on commercial efforts to disclose reliable data when purchasing conflict minerals illustrated a concerning trend.(Andrea Vittorio, Bloomberg). The current trend indicates that many companies who deal in conflict minerals are receiving lower grades for their efforts and abilities to provide transparency on the origins of those minerals. Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 directs the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to enforce reporting requirements for companies that manufacture products with conflict minerals. Conflict minerals are those that originate from mines controlled by armed groups in areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighboring countries.
On March 12, 2019, executives of T-Mobile US Inc. (“T-Mobile”) and Sprint Corporation (“Sprint”) testified in the third round of Congressional Hearings concerning the merger of the two companies. T-Mobile’s purchase of Sprint for $26 billion was announced almost a year ago on April 29, 2018 and continues to endure questioning from regulators. (Victoria Graham, Bloomberg). The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) and the Democratic-controlled House Subcommittee on Antitrust are reviewing the merger under the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure it promotes “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” (47 U.S.C. §310(d); Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., Committee on Energy and Commerce). While the U.S. Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) antitrust division does not consider U.S. industrial policy in merger reviews like the House Subcommittee, it is looking at whether the deal harms competition. (Todd Shields et al., Bloomberg).
Deutsche Bank’s merger with Commerzbank could make Deutsche Bank the fourth largest bank in Europe with the potential to make Germany instrumental in the international market. With Deutsche Bank (“Deutsche”) getting support from key German government officials to proceed with negotiations to merge with Commerzbank, it seems likely a merger between the two will succeed. Although a merger between the banks is probable, the banks face a great amount of opposition, and logistical issues, which may hinder the merger and any future success Deutsche could enjoy. The acquisition serves as a strategy to improve Deutsche’s competitiveness by giving Deutsche the necessary size and resources to compete in the global market.
The Blackstone Group (“Blackstone”), a New York-based financial services firm, announced on March 15, 2019, that it had signed a definitive agreement to purchase Japanese drug maker AYUMI Pharmaceutical Corporation (“AYUMI”). (Lisa Du, Bloomberg Law). This deal marks Blackstone’s first investment in a growing Japanese private equity market. (Matt Anderson et al., Blackstone). AYUMI produces drugs for rheumatic and orthopedic disorders and is valued at around $1 billion. The company is currently owned by Japanese private equity firms Unison Capital Inc. (“Unison”) and M3 Inc. (“M3”). (Lisa Du, Bloomberg Law).
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”) is a multi-agency committee comprised of members from executive agencies related to the economy, national security, and foreign intelligence. The agency was created during Gerald Ford’s presidency and its mandate is to review any transaction (called “covered transactions”) that might have an impact on U.S. national security (Keeler, Mayer Brown).A covered transaction is a merger, acquisition, or takeover in which a foreign national, entity, or government acquires an interest in a U.S. business that has an impact on U.S. national security (Jaramillo, Foley Hoag).This system of review was designed to be voluntary. Even so, CFIUS maintains the ability to block transactions when no notice of filing is submitted through the CFIUS system.
With Blockchain technology becoming more prevalent worldwide, particularly as it relates to cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (“ICOs”), regulators continue their struggle to develop appropriate legislation that embodies an ideal balance between regulation and innovation. In an effort to help shape these new regulations and encourage legislation that is favorable to the crypto industry, many crypto leaders have increased their presence in Washington, primarily through lobbying efforts. (Lydia Beyoud, Bloomberg Law). In fact, lobbying efforts increased significantly during 2018 with larger crypto groups spending six-figures per quarter on lobbying alone, and crypto-specific companies filing twice as many lobbying reports in 2018 as 2017. (Id.).
Cryptocurrency and the technology it relies on, blockchain, revolutionized both the tech and finance world. A blockchain is a distributed record of transactions, usually managed by a peer-to-peer network of computers that validates the transactions. With companies racing to take advantage of this new industry, it was only a matter of time before some companies would try to take advantage of unsuspecting investors. This is what happened with a company called Compcoin LLC. (“Compcoin”).
In Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 773 Pension Fund v. Danske Bank A/S, No. 19-cv-235 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 19, 2019), Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Pension Fund (“Plaintiffs”) filed a class action suit against Danske Bank A/S (“Defendant”). The complaint was filed on behalf of all purchasers of Defendant’s American Depositary Receipts (“ADRs”) between January 9, 2014 and October 23, 2018. Plaintiffs claimed Defendant engaged in a series of untrue and misleading statements in response to allegations of illicit banking activities stemming from Defendant’s Estonia branch during the class period, thereby violating Rule 10b-5 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“the Act”).
On January 7th Coinbase paused trading on Ethereum Classic (ETC) after it fell victim to a 51% attack. The attack resulted in over $500,000 of ETC being spent twice (Olga Kharif, Bloomberg Law). To appreciate what this means for the ETC mining community, two things must be understood: Hash rates and a 51% attack.
“Hash rates” or “hash power” refers to the total computing power of a decentralized network. Proof of Work (PoW) blockchains, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, are driven by miners “hashing,” which is essentially solving complicated math problems. (Bisade Asolo, MyCryptopedia).
In Akorn, Inc. v. Fresenius Kabi AG (Del. Ch. 2018 WL 4719347), the plaintiff pharmaceutical company (“Akorn”) brought suit against Fresenius seeking specific performance of its signed merger agreement. Fresenius argued it was permitted to terminate the merger agreement because Akorn’s actions, performance, and misrepresentations following execution of the agreement constituted a materially adverse effect (“MAE”) under the terms of the merger agreement and thus excused Fresenius’s obligation to perform. The court held that Fresenius legally terminated its merger agreement with Akorn because: (1) Akorn made material misrepresentations with regard to its business operations and the status of its regulatory compliance before the closing date, (2) Akorn did not materially comply with or perform its obligations under the merger agreement prior to the effective closing date, and (3) Akorn suffered a general MAE that allowed Fresenius to terminate the agreement.
The recent government shutdown prevented privately held companies from submitting their requests to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to offer their shares to the public. The SEC is responsible for reviewing a company’s registration documents and financial data necessary for initial public offerings (“IPOs”). Prior to the shutdown, the SEC urged companies to file accelerated registration statements so that they could be approved. (Associated Press, New York Times). Although companies may go public without SEC approved registration statements, the company would certainly be subject to SEC scrutiny upon the government’s reopening. (Rob Crilly, The National). Consequently, most companies decided to wait for approval from the SEC prior to their IPOs being made available.
Proxy contests are one means through which shareholders can voice concerns about board action. Due to their excessively high cost, proxy contests were once somewhat rare; today, however, they are much more common due to the flourish of hedge funds. (Warren S. de Wied, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, Westlaw Practical Law). One such hedge fund contributing to these proxy contests is Third Point, LLC (“Third Point”), founded by Daniel S. Loeb in New York in 1995. (Campbell Soup Co.). This note introduces readers to current trends in activist-led proxy contests, summarizes a recent proxy fight between Third Point and Campbell Soup Co. (“Campbell”), and speculates on how this and similar contests may affect corporate accountability in 2019.
Last year, financial regulators around the world adapted to the rise of blockchain and cryptocurrency. Approaches to regulation have varied, but most major financial markets are striving to better understand the technology and develop methods for investor transparency and protection. In 2018, regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) reacted to the cryptocurrency marketplace with heightened attention. (Jonathan Levin, Bloomberg). Last year, for example, the SEC started to examine smaller brokerage firms dealing virtual tokens for potential enforcement actions. Outside the United States, French regulator Autorite des Marches Financiers (“AMF”) blacklisted new cryptocurrency investment websites, while Russia drafted legislation to implement cryptocurrency regulation.
On May 25, 2018, the European Union (EU) began the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with the aim of protecting all citizens residing within the EU from privacy and data breaches. (GDPR Key Changes, GDPR.org). Approximately 40% of acquiring companies that engage in merger and acquisition transactions discover cybersecurity issues in their newly-acquired entities, and companies are starting to become wearier of acquisition transactions due to the expensive repercussions of non-compliance with GDPR rules. (Harroch, Forbes). Approximately $1.3 trillion of deals have failed with 900 transactions being terminated or withdrawn due to GDPR concerns, despite 2018 being a notable year overall for mergers and acquisitions. (Thomson, Bloomberg Law).
Alibaba Group Holding (“Alibaba”), a Chinese multinational corporation, which provides internet infrastructure, e-commerce, online financial, and internet content services, has acquired German start-up data analysis company, Data Artisans (“Artisans”) . (Reuters, Bloomberg). Alibaba has been called the Chinese “Amazon” and is currently the world's fifth-largest internet company by revenue. (Yahoo Finance). Artisans, which was founded in 2014 by Kostas Tzoumas and Stephan Ewen, is attributed with creating Apache Flink, an open source stream processing framework for high-performance, scalable, and accurate real-time applications. (Ververica). The Apache Flink application essentially analyzes large quantities of data as it comes in, rather than once it is saved, providing for a more efficient stream processing method. (Stephan Scheuer, Handelsblatt).
Following Democratic control of the House, a new resolution was passed in January as a means to limit lawmakers’ control over public companies. Specifically, the resolution amended the Rules of the House of Representatives to ban House lawmakers’ membership on public company boards, with exceptions for nonprofits and board positions that do not provide compensation. (H. Res. 1043). Other rules passed at the same time direct the House Committee of Ethics to address conflict of interest concerns arising from lawmakers’ participation in other company roles. (Andrea Vittorio, Bloomberg Law). Although a similar ban and exceptions have existed for members of the Senate, until now there were no equivalent rules for the House.
Countries around the world are being forced to decide what role, if any, cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) will play in their financial markets. The United States is no exception, as investors and leaders in the crypto industry continue to push for as little regulation as possible. But given the long, slow nature of the regulation process, many of these investors and crypto leaders are anxious to see some form of clear and uniform cryptocurrency regulations (Adrian Zmudzinski, Cointelegraph). To make matters worse, the partial shutdown of the federal government further delayed the process, particularly as it relates to agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (John Nancarrow, Bloomberg Law).
Is political endorsement considered good corporate governance practice? Patagonia says yes.
Shortly before the November 6, 2018 midterm election, Patagonia publicly endorsed two Democratic senatorial candidates, Jon Tester from Montana and Jacky Rosen from Nevada, what appears to be a first for any corporation. Patagonia stated that it endorsed the candidates because of their commitment to public lands and waters. (Dino Grandoni, Power Post). Both Tester and Rosen were victorious in the midterm elections.
International Business Machines Corporation (“IBM”) announced on October 28th of 2018 its plans to acquire American software company Red Hat, Inc. (“Red Hat”) for $34 billion. (Liana B. Baker and Greg Roumeliotis, Reuters). The deal, which is the software industry’s largest-ever acquisition, is expected to close in the latter half of 2019. Id. IBM is set to pay $190 per Red Hat share — a 63% premium on Red Hat’s closing share price on October 26, 2018. Id. IBM intends to maintain Red Hat’s headquarters, facilities, brands, and practices, as well as retain Red Hat’s management team and Chief Executive Officer Jim Whitehurst after the deal has closed. Id. This post provides an overview of the two companies, the deal, and its anticipated effects.
A settlement agreement has been reached regarding the SEC Investigation of Elon Musk and his infamous Tweet stating that he was taking Tesla private. The tweet created an array of problems for the company since its publication. Under the settlement agreement, both Tesla and Musk will each pay a $20 million dollar fine and Musk will resign as Tesla’s Chairman for three years in order to resolve other pending charges arising from this incident. (Munsif Vengattil, Business Insider). The $20 million dollar fine assessed to Tesla was not for fraud, however, but rather, for the company’s failure to have any procedures or disclosure controls over Musk’s communication practices, i.e. his Twitter account. (Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch). As a result of Musk’s resignation, Tesla will have to appoint two new independent directors to its board. (SEC Press Release). Nevertheless, despite the settlement agreement and the backlash that ensued over his Tweet, Musk will remain as Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer and more importantly, he will not have to admit or deny the allegations of the lawsuit.
On October 31, 2018 the SEC adopted new mining disclosure requirements that were originally proposed under the Obama Administration. (Andrew Ramonas, Bloomberg Law). According to an agency press release, the amendments, which modify both the Securities Act of 1933 (Securities Act) and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act), will “provide investors with a more comprehensive understanding of a registrant’s mining properties, which should help them make more informed investment decisions.” (SEC, Press Release). The new rules eliminate and update Industry Guide 7, the current set of rules that have been called “woefully out of date.” (Anderson, Brenkert, and Doerksen, Dorsey & Whitney LLP).
On August 15, 2018, Best Buy Co., Inc. (Best Buy) announced that it signed a definitive agreement to acquire GreatCall Inc. (“GreatCall”) for $800 million as part of its growing business selling health and wellness products specifically focused on the aging population. (Investor Relations, Best Buy). GreatCall is the maker of the senior focused Jitterbug cell phones along with other devices designed to allow elderly consumers to connect with caregivers and to facilitate communication with emergency services. (Barba, Wall Street Journal). The acquisition is projected to be neutral to Best Buy’s adjusted earnings in 2019 and 2020 as well as to increase its adjusted earnings by 2021. (Investor Relations, Best Buy). The acquisition is part of Best Buy’s 2020 strategy to use technology to address key human needs among the aging U.S. population. (Barba, Wall Street Journal). GreatCall headquarters will remain in San Diego and David Inns will remain as the company’s CEO. (Press Release, Market Watch).
In September 2018, the United Kingdom’s Treasury Select Committee ("TSC") published the result of its months-long examination of the UK’s cryptocurrency sector. It provided regulatory recommendations to protect consumers and to prevent fraud and money laundering in the cryptoasset market (the “TSC Report,” House of Commons Treasury Committee Crypto-assets Report.) Certain industry players, led by the non-profit British Business Federation Authority (BBFA), objected to these recommendations. They argued the TSC’s proposed approach lacks nuance and will lead cryptomarket participants to flee the UK for jurisdictions with fewer regulations (William Suberg, Coin Telegraph.).
In Davis v. Skullcandy, Inc., No. 2:16-cv-00121-RJS-PMW, 2018 BL 96655 (D. Utah Mar. 21, 2018), the United States District Court for the District of Utah Central Division granted Skullcandy, Inc. (“Skullcandy”), CEO Seth Darling ("Darling"), CFO Jason Hodell ("Hodell"), and board member Richard Allen’s ("Allen") (collectively the “Defendants”) motion to dismiss shareholder Melanie Davis’s (“Plaintiff”) securities fraud claim alleging Defendants mislead shareholders about Skullcandy's performance. The court held Plaintiff did not allege with particularity a violation of Section 10(b) or Section 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”).
On July 16, 2010, the CEO and co-founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, posted the very first photo to the social media platform, which depicted a golden retriever next to a taco stand. (Olivia Waxman, The New York Times). Within 18 months, Facebook, Inc. purchased Instagram, and nearly 8 years after Instagram’s inception, the co-founders of Instagram, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, announced their resignation from Facebook, Inc. in a New York Times article. (Mike Isaac, The New York Times).
We hope you enjoying reading the blog! If you're a student, professor, or attorney, and are interested in contributing blog posts to RTTB, please contact the Managing Editor at email@example.com. Thank you!