In an article in 2022, Politico reported that SEC Chair Gary “Gensler has come under fire for the pace of rulemaking coming out of the agency, with critics claiming that dissecting the flood of new proposals in such short periods of time is impractical. Gensler has pointed out that the number of proposals [is] largely on par with what former SEC chairs like Clayton have done. The latest proposals have just been more clustered than in the past, Gensler said.” That’s a response that I’m sure I’ve heard any number of times during Congressional hearings. Is that still the case? To find out, Bloomberg performed a count of SEC records from 2001 to 2023 to assess the extent of rulemaking in the first two years, four months and one week into the tenures of several of the SEC Chairs over that period who were confirmed to lead the SEC at the start of a new administration. The answer? Yes and no. According to Bloomberg, the “SEC under Chair Gary Gensler is issuing regulations at its slowest pace in decades for a new presidential administration,” having adopted just 22 final rules since his tenure began in 2021. By comparison, over the same periods, the SEC under Jay Clayton had adopted 25 final rules, under Mary Schapiro, 28 rules, and under Harvey Pitt, a whopping 34 rules (many implementing the SOX mandate). So were all the complaints about the tsunami of rulemaking just misguided? Not exactly. As Bloomberg notes, “[d]espite trailing his recent predecessors on final rules, Gensler’s proposal tally of 49 exceeds Clayton’s 28 and Pitt’s 48, but is less than Schapiro’s 65.” [Emphasis added.] For the agenda of the Gensler administration, that leaves quite a chasm at this point between rules that are final and rules that are just proposed. What might that mean for SEC priorities? Bloomberg takes a deep dive.
There has been a lot of speculation about the extent to which Congress would take advantage of the Congressional Review Act to dispense with some of the “midnight regulations” adopted during the prior administration. (See this PubCo post.) We may finally be getting some insight into that question. Senator Sherrod Brown has now introduced a joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the SEC’s new(ish) shareholder proposal amendments, which were the subject of strong dissents from the Democratic SEC Commissioners when they were adopted in September 2020. The resolution simply provides that Congress disapproves the rule and, as a result, the rule will have no force or effect. As reported by Bloomberg, Brown stated that “[b]y raising eligibility and resubmission thresholds for shareholder proposals, the rules take away an important tool to push for better corporate governance, increase transparency, and address the gender pay gap….Congress must repeal the rule, and we need to find ways to increase shareholder participation and to make executives more accountable.” As reported by Reuters, the National Association of Manufacturers described the resolution as “heavy-handed” and stated that it “does not believe the CRA is the appropriate mechanism for review of the SEC’s rule to modernize the proxy process […] and looks forward to engaging with the SEC to defend the vital reforms included within it.” Will the resolution win the necessary support?
You might remember that the first piece of legislation signed into law by the then-new (now outgoing) administration in 2017 was, according to the Washington Post, a bill that relied on the Congressional Review Act to dispense with the resource extraction payment disclosure rules. (See this PubCo post.) Under the CRA, any rules that were recently finalized by the executive branch and sent to Congress could be jettisoned by a simple majority vote in Congress and a Presidential signature. According to the Congressional Research Service, before the current outgoing administration took up the cudgel in 2017, “[o]f the approximately 72,000 final rules that [had] been submitted to Congress since the [CRA] was enacted in 1996, the CRA [had] been used to disapprove one rule: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s November 2000 final rule on ergonomics, which was overturned using the CRA in March 2001.” That’s because the stars are rarely in proper alignment: generally, the CRS indicated, for successful use, there will have been a turnover in party control of the White House and both houses of Congress will be majority–controlled by the same party as the President. That was the case in 2017, and, as of January 9, 2020, the CRA had been used to overturn a total of 17 rules, according to the CRS. Well, the stars are in proper alignment now. To observe that the new Congress and new administration have a lot on their plates is quite an understatement. Will they use the CRA to scrap any of the SEC’s “midnight regulations”?
In a speech delivered by video to the Securities Regulation Institute in San Diego, SEC Chair Jay Clayton shed some light (but just a little) on the anticipated completion of the rulemaking mandates under Dodd-Frank.
Summarized below are some of the highlights of the 2017 PLI Securities Regulation Institute panel discussions with the SEC staff (Michele Anderson, Wesley Bricker, Karen Garnett, William Hinman, Mark Kronforst, Shelley Parratt, Ted Yu), as well as a number of former staffers and other commentators. Topics included the Congressional and SEC agendas, fresh insights into the shareholder proposal guidance, as well as expectations regarding cybersecurity, conflict minerals, pay ratio disclosure, waivers and many other topics.