It Ought To Stop

This article was reprinted with permission from FCPA Professor.

One of the most unexplored segments of FCPA Inc. is the conference industry.  If you have not noticed, there is an active and vibrant FCPA conference circuit that is dominated by a few corporate conference organizing firms.

One way in which the conference firms drive attendance to their events is by touting the public servants who will speak at the event.

For instance, one such conference firm is currently and actively marketing (including through press releases) its upcoming event by touting the long list of DOJ/SEC speakers at the event.  The conference firm's marketing materials note the following speakers.

Keynote Speaker: Lanny Breuer (Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, DOJ).

Other Government Speakers:  Jeffrey Knox (Principal Deputy Chief, Fraud Section, DOJ); Charles Duross (Deputy Chief, Fraud Section, DOJ); Nathanial Edmonds (Assistant Chief, Fraud Section, DOJ); James Koukios (Assistant Chief, Fraud Secton, DOJ); Jason Jones (Assistant Chief, Fraud Section, DOJ); Kara Brockmeyer (Chief, FCPA Unit, SEC); Tracy Price (Assistant Director, FCPA Unit, SEC); and Sean McKessy (Head of Whistleblower Office, SEC).

To hear your DOJ and SEC public servants speak at this event, the conference firm is charging between approximately $2,000 - $4,000 per person (depending on when you register) for the conference and related workshop events.

As noted in the previous post regarding this issue, the following questions are raised by these frequent FCPA events and how they are marketed.  Should public servants be allowed to speak at private conferences and events that charge thousands of dollars to attend?  Should public servants be used as pawns by corporate conference organizers to boost attendance and thus revenue?  Should the enforcement agencies release all speeches, comments and remarks, including answers to questions posed by the audience?  Do small to medium size enterprises have the resources to attend such events?

Touting the public servants who will speak at events to drive attendance and revenue at the events, and public servants who allow themselves to be used in such a way, are not the only problematic feature of many FCPA conferences.

Another problematic feature of such events is that conference attendees likely think that they are hearing from panelists who are selected based on the power and persuasion of their ideals, when the reality is often something different.

A knowledgable source with experience as a sponsor of various high-profile FCPA conference events confirmed to me the following.

What most people do not know about several FCPA conferences is that many speaker slots are reserved for corporate sponsors of the event.  In other words, the conference has the look and feel of pay to play (or speak as the case may be).  Moreover, certain of the corporate sponsors exercise what amounts to veto power in the selection of panel participants.  In short, a corporate sponsor can veto participation by an industry competitor in the panel or event.  Thus, those attending the event may think that they are hearing from panels of leading practitioners, compliance professionals, etc. selected on a merit based system (and in some cases that is true), but the reality is that many of the conference speakers are selected on a pay to play basis.

This knowledgable source told me as follows.

"[Conference firm] affords the lead sponsor of a given event the right to veto speakers and sponsors that the sponsor construes to be direct competitors.  Last time that I checked, the sponsor could veto as many as 3 competing organizations from playing any role whatsoever in the event ... speaker/sponsor/exhibitor.  This can have the effect of skewing the agenda of the conference to the point of view of the sponsor willing to pony up the most money. Different firms have different types of professionals, sets of experiences, approaches and service offerings.   By allowing the lead sponsor to play this heavy handed role, [conference firm] is limiting conference attendees' ability to hear from a variety of perspectives.  Indeed, attendees that only spring for one conference a year hear only that skewed perspective, no one else's."

Everyone and every company is entitled to make a buck.  However, when business success relies, at least in part, on touting public servants and opaquely restricting deliveries to the marketplace of ideals, it ought to stop.

*****

This is the second time I have touched upon the above issues (see here for the prior post "Addressing the 'Luncheon Law' Nature of the FCPA).  Such repeat issues are justified when my discussions with others inform me that there is a wide consensus on an issue, but further analysis does not occur because others may lack a forum and/or because others may not want to speak up because of their positions.

Read more articles on the FCPA by Mike Koehler at FCPA Professor.

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