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Is the Trump Administration Causing a Reduction in Corruption in Public Companies?

posted by Mitu Gulati

In theory it is possible, I guess.  The Trump Administration comes in, promising to clean or drain or pump the swamp in Washington, and CEOs of public companies become scared and decide to reform themselves.  If so, one would expect to see fewer corruption prosecutions because, of course, there is less corruption to prosecute.

My dear friend and co author, Steve Choi, constructed a graph of the actions filed against US public companies and subsidiaries in the first fiscal year since the Trump Administration took office (that is, month by month data of filings, until September 30, 2017).  If you are interested, the graph is here (along with details about our data collection process, caveats blah blah).

Bottom line:  At first cut, the SEC, at least under the FCPA, seems to be bringing a lot fewer actions under the Trump Administration than they were bringing under the Obama Administration.

Is it because there is a lot less corruption now?  Because CEOs are running scared? Hmmmm . . .

Maybe, and one of my knowledgeable colleagues mentioned this, it is because the Trump Administration has been unduly slow in appointing the department heads who would need to sign off on public company investigations.  Maybe so.  If so, we should see an explosion in prosecutions after the appointments are made.  We will keep collecting the data and see how this explosion hypothesis does.

Or maybe, as a fascinating profile of Rex Tillerson a couple of days ago in the New Yorker suggests, President Trump thinks that the FCPA is awfully inefficient:  Quoting from the New Yorker piece --

In February, a few weeks after Tillerson was confirmed by the Senate, he visited the Oval Office to introduce the President to a potential deputy, but Trump had something else on his mind. He began fulminating about federal laws that prohibit American businesses from bribing officials overseas; the businesses, he said, were being unfairly penalized.

Tillerson disagreed. When he was an executive with Exxon, he told Trump, he once met with senior officials in Yemen to discuss a deal. At the meeting, Yemen’s oil minister handed him his business card. On the back was written an account number at a Swiss bank. “Five million dollars,” the minister told him.

“I don’t do that,” Tillerson said. “Exxon doesn’t do that.” If the Yemenis wanted Exxon on the deal, he said, they’d have to play straight. A month later, the Yemenis assented. “Tillerson told Trump that America didn’t need to pay bribes—that we could bring the world up to our own standards,” a source with knowledge of the exchange told me.

Comments

Door number three is your closest option. Trump has no intention of enforcing laws that favor individuals over corporations, period.

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