Two parts of the Financial Reform Bill passed last week by the Senate and which the President has said he’ll sign concern us. The first is the whistleblower bounty for securities-law recoveries, including FCPA-related settlements, that exceed $1 million.
The bounty program will result in more FCPA cases against corporations. It won’t matter if they have robust compliance programs. Organizations are strictly liable for crimes committed by employees who are doing their jobs. So even if a company has an effective compliance program and has done everything possible to prevent violations, that’s no defense under respondeat superior.
When the DOJ and SEC find an employee’s FCPA violation, the company is presumed guilty and forced to settle the case, usually by paying a big penalty.
Companies trying to settle are also forced to help the government make cases against employees and other individuals. The companies might have to disclose information to prosecutors that the employees thought was privileged. So the rules of privilege and the right against self incrimination are short-circuited.
Before so-called financial reform creates whistleblower bounties for FCPA-related recoveries, the law of respondeat superior needs to be reformed. Corporations should be given the chance to defend themselves by showing good-faith efforts at compliance.
The second part of the financial reform bill that concerns us is Section 1504, “Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers.” It requires public companies involved in oil and gas and mineral development to disclose in their annual reports all extraction-related payments they or their controlled subsidiaries make to foreign governments.
The FCPA already covers illegal payments to foreign government officials. This new law covers legal payments to governments themselves.
We’ll stipulate that some natural resource companies do business with corrupt overseas governments. That’s because not all hydrocarbons and minerals are found under land controlled by saintly regimes. But what will happen when the payments are disclosed? Will governments and private groups mount PR campaigns against companies doing business with unpopular overseas governments? Will “extraction issuers” lose their freedom to go where the natural resources are? Will doing business with regimes that can’t pass someone’s smell test trigger political attacks that punish companies for legal activities that bring needed products to the rest of the world?
There’s always tension between big oil and the U.S government. That’s natural. They both control vast resources that can be used to influence domestic and foreign policy. But the government shouldn’t impose disclosure requirements on businesses that the government itself isn’t willing or able to meet.
For more on Section 1504, see Mike Koehler’s excellent discussion here.