Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Wit and Wisdom of Commissioner Gallagher

I doubt that comments from SEC Commissioners are often dubbed "witty," but Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher had a real zinger in connection with the SEC's adoption of pay ratio rules last year.

As a bit of background, among the many half-baked ideas in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 was the requirement that the SEC adopt rules requiring public companies to disclose the median annual compensation of all employees of the company (excluding the Chief Executive Officer) as well as the ratio of the median salary to the total compensation of the CEO.

Of course, this disclosure would be virtually meaningless to any rational investor.  The sole goal of this new disclosure requirement was to try to embarrass CEOs by making their compensation appear unreasonably high when compared to rank-and-file employees.  Did you think the goal of the SEC disclosure regime was to inform shareholders so that they can make rational investment decisions? So did I, but apparently the 111th Congress of the United States, which passed the Dodd-Frank Act, disagreed.

Anyway, the SEC was tasked with coming up with regulations to implement Dodd-Frank's disclosure requirement.  The task of determining the median annual compensation of employees was not as easy as it might initially seem. What about part-time workers? Seasonal workers? Non-U.S. based workers?  What about employees with different cost-of-living circumstances? Etc.

Ultimately, the SEC passed a controversial set of rules by a 3-2 vote, which included part-time and foreign workers in the median compensation calculation. At the meeting in which the vote was taken, Commissioner Gallagher objected to the adoption of the rule, noting that the disclosure was outside the SEC's core mission, and explaining that since the SEC was required to adopt the rule, he would have at least used the SEC's definitional and interpretive authority to limit the phrase "all employees" in the Dodd-Frank Act to full-time, U.S. based workers.

And here's the part I really like.  Commissioner Gallagher described his proposed disclosure rule as "marginally less useless" than the rule the SEC ultimately adopted. Classic.

I had the honor of introducing Commissioner Gallagher at the 2015 UT-CLE Conference on Securities Regulation and Business Law, and I can confirm that his prepared remarks were as thoughtful as his comment of pay ratio rules was witty.