SEC Releases Initial Report on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program

SEC Releases Initial Report on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program

Even thought the SEC's final regulations for the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program just became effective on August 12, 2011, the agency has already filed its first report on the whistleblower program. Under Section 924(d) of the Dodd Frank Act, the SEC must report annually to Congress on its activities, whistleblower complaints and the agency's response to the complaints. Because the agency's November 2011 report is written as of the September 30, 2011 end of the fiscal year, it covers only seven weeks of whistleblower data for fiscal year 2011. The Report can be found here.

The report shows that during the first seven weeks of the program, the agency received 334 whistleblower tips. The SEC itself cautions that "due to the relatively recent launch of the program and the small sample size, it is too early to identify any specific trends or conclusions from the data collected to date." Nevertheless, even though it is early yet, there are some interesting tidbits in the report's data.

First, a surprising number of the reports originated outside the United States. That is, not only did the agency receive individual whistleblower submissions from individuals in 37 different states, but it also received reports from individuals in eleven different foreign countries. These non-U.S. whistleblowers 32 submissions represented roughly ten percent of all of the whistleblower submissions during the reporting period. The country with the highest number of submissions was China (10), followed by the U.K. (9).

Second, though many commentators had expected that the Dodd Frank whistleblower provisions would trigger a flood of FCPA-related reports, and though there were so many reports from outside the U.S., whistleblower submissions reporting FCPA violations represented only four percent of the submissions during the reporting period, a level of submissions that has puzzled some commentators (refer for example here).

When the Dodd-Frank Act was first enacted, there was a great deal of concern that the bounty rewards in the whistleblower provisions would trigger a flood of whistleblower reports. (The bounty provisions require an award of between 10% and 30% of the amount of SEC recoveries based on the whistleblower submissions, when the SEC's recovery exceeds $1 million). Some might find the 334 of whistleblower submissions during the reporting period surprisingly low.

But in addition to the reporting period only representing seven weeks, it is also worth noting that there still have been as yet no bounty awards under the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program. The SEC's recent report shows that the agency maintains a fund of over $452 million in order to fund future whistleblower awards.

A former SEC official who helped draft the whistleblower provisions has said that he expects that in coming years "the SEC will exceed its previous records in both number of actions brought and the amount of sanctions collected as a result of whistleblower assistance."

The $452 million fund available for bounty awards suggests that we will indeed see significant numbers of whistleblower submissions in the future. Based on the history of other government whistleblower programs that offer steep financial motivations, the expectation that there will be significant numbers of whistleblower report in the future seems well founded. For example, an entire industry has grown up in support of qui tam actions under the False Claims Act, with serial claimants and specialized law firms organized to pursue these claims systematically. David Barrio has a very interesting November 17, 2011 in the AmLaw Litigation Daily article (here) discussing the serial qui tam claimant and his "industrious" law firm that has over a 16-year period recovered over $2.5 billion from pharmaceutical companies accused of ripping off Medicare and Medicaid. 

And while the SEC's first report since the whistleblower program covers only a short time period and reflects only a small number of whistleblower submissions, among those submissions are some significant items. As discussed in Jean Eaglesham's November 16, 2011 Wall Street Journal article (here), among the reports the SEC received during the initial reporting period were tips that the Bank of New York Mellon and State Street Corp. were improperly charging large institutional clients for currency trades.

These examples show the potential significance of the whistleblower program. As these types of whistleblower reports translate into bounty awards, more submissions will follow. The SEC's initial report for the short reporting period provides a cryptic but tantalizing glimpse of the likely future of this program.

EEOC Releases 2011 Report: And speaking of annual government reports, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has also released its fiscal 2011 Performance and Accountability Report. The EEOC's report, which can be found here, contains a detailed overview of the agency itself. The report also contains some data relating to the agency's enforcement activities.

Among other things, the agency's report shows that in fiscal 2011, the agency received a record number of charges during fiscal 2011. The 99,947 charges the agency received during 2011 slightly exceeded the 99,922 charges the agency received in 2010. This relatively slight annual gain in the number of charges between 2010 and 2011 contrasts with the steep increase in the number of charges between FY 2004 and FY 2009, when the annual increases in the number of charges ranged from 12 to 38 percent. This rapid ramp up of the number of charges has produced increased what the report describes as the agency's "inventory." The report details the steps the agency is taking to try to reduce its accumulated inventory.

Cases Against U.S-Listed Chinese Companies Continues to Accumulate: As I have previously noted elsewhere, one of the significant factory in securities class action litigation filing activity during the past 18 months has been the flood of new cases involving U.S.-listed Chinese companies. One of the frequent comments about this surge of filings has been that sooner or later this phenomenon has to play itself out, since sooner or later the plaintiffs' lawyers will just run out of companies to sue.

But while this filing phenomenon has to come to an end sooner or later, the lawsuits involving U.S. listed Chinese companies are still continuing to come in. In their November 16, 2011 press release (here), plaintiffs' attorneys' announced that they had filed an action in the Central District of California against Keyuan Petrochemicals and certain of its directors and officers. In their complaint, which can be found here, the plaintiffs allege that the company failed to disclose certain related party transactions and that the company's financial statement did not reflect the company's true financial condition.

With the filing of this complaint, there have now been a total of 36 securities class action lawsuits in 2011 involving U.S. listed Chinese companies, and a total of 47 since January 1, 2010.

Read other items of interest from the world of directors & officers liability, with occasional commentary, at the D&O Diary, a blog by Kevin LaCroix.

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