In January of 2021, Congress adopted substantial changes to the nation’s anti-money-laundering laws, including enacting a new federal statute, the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA or Act), that will establish a centralized database of corporate beneficial ownership. The CTA mandates that by 2025 (or, in some cases, by 2024) all domestic and foreign companies doing business in the U.S. must provide information about the true beneficiaries of their operations by complying with new reporting requirements. The legislation is designed to capture information on an estimated 32 million companies that operate in unregulated areas or are too small to trigger disclosure obligations under other federal laws yet can be used by criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors to hide money laundering and other illicit financial activities. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network bureau (FinCEN) explained the need for a beneficial ownership database, stating, “Illicit actors frequently use corporate structures such as shell and front companies to obfuscate their identities and launder their ill-gotten gains through the U.S. financial system. Not only do such acts undermine U.S. national security, but they also threaten U.S. economic prosperity: shell and front companies can shield beneficial owners’ identities and allow criminals to illegally access and transact in the U.S. economy, while creating an uneven playing field for small U.S. businesses engaged in legitimate activity.” FinCEN issued its final rule on the CTA’s reporting requirements on September 29, 2022. Although the regulations resolve many of the issues that arose after the Act’s passage, a number of compliance challenges and questions still remain.
Economist Michael Mandel analogized regulations to pebbles in a stream. If you drop one pebble into a stream, its individual effect is negligible. If you deposit a thousand pebbles into a stream, the flow of the water slows down. On the other hand, if you pour one hundred thousand pebbles into a stream, the stream’s flow can become blocked altogether. Researchers note that the amount of regulation in the U.S., both at the state and federal level, has grown steadily over the years. It is a process known as regulatory accumulation. Whether it involves regulating the fuel efficiency of cars, labels on food products or the number of beds permitted in a hospital, new rules are added every year. Yet, few, if any, regulations are ever taken off the books despite the fact that many become unnecessary or virtually obsolete. Some economists argue that overregulation has the effect of slowing economic growth and ultimately impacting the well-being of society. But the task is a difficult one: how does a government identify which regulations should be cut and who should lead the effort?
As the pace of Russia’s incursion into neighboring Ukraine escalated three weeks ago, starting with a massing of troops on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas border and expanding quickly into a full-fledged military invasion, so too did the response of the United States and its Western allies. Initially, the Biden Administration proceeded cautiously, deciding against levying its harshest sanctions over concerns of how they would impact European and global economies and that a stepped approach offered the best chance for de-escalation of tensions. The government began by blacklisting two major state-owned banks that are tied to the country’s defense sector and five Russian nationals with close links to the Kremlin. The U.S. and its European allies also banned the Kremlin from raising new money in the U.S. and Europe and trading new sovereign debt in U.S or European markets. In addition, Germany unilaterally halted certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline which was set to go ahead sometime later this year, an action applauded by the U.S. who had long argued against the project fearing that it would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian fuel.
Throughout the end of 2021, the Biden administration intensified its crackdown on civilian organizations believed to be supporting China’s military. As a result, the U.S. Commerce and Treasury departments, acting pursuant to the president’s June 3 Executive Order, recently unleashed a barrage of economic sanctions by effectively blacklisting more than forty Chinese companies, tech firms, and research institutes. Such far-reaching measures have ensnared prominent businesses across a variety of industries, including facial recognition specialists, artificial intelligence companies, and the world’s largest producer of commercial drones, DJI Technology Co. Those targeted were added to either the Commerce Department’s entity list, which blocks trade with U.S. exporters of software and other technologies, or to a Treasury list restricting access to American investment. Placement on the Treasury’s list can be especially damaging to an organization’s financial stability because the agency’s policies not only bar those sanctioned from transacting with domestic businesses but also prohibit American investors from taking stakes in companies on the list. Unsurprisingly, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry quickly denounced the sanctions as an “unwarranted suppression” of Chinese enterprises. Some of the listed companies themselves also publicly criticized their presence on the blacklists, including the artificial-intelligence start-up SenseTime Group which called the accusations against it “unfounded.” U.S. officials, however, defended the decision – citing both national security threats and human rights violations as causes for the sanctions.
“Soft on You, Softer on the Planet” declares an advertisement for the Icon-Impact Collection from UGG® which debuted this fall in a store near you. Touted as an innovative product with a positive impact on the environment, the newly introduced collection uses reclaimed wool, a sole made of sugarcane, and repurposed plastic from at least two recycled plastic bottles. It’s all part of the brand’s Feel Good initiative, and in partnership with One Tree Planted, UGG® promises to plant one tree for every pair of shoes bought at select UGG® stores and online. It’s also an example of “green marketing,” the practice of appealing to consumers’ preferences for sustainable and eco-friendly products, especially Millennial and Gen Z consumers who are willing to pay a little bit extra for their purchases.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reached a rather auspicious milestone in September when it announced that, with the addition of two recent awards totaling $114 million, the aggregate amount of monies paid out under the SEC’s whistleblower program since its implementation in 2011 has exceeded $1 billion. In fiscal year 2021 alone, the SEC has awarded a record $500 million. The SEC also reported that award payments have been made to a total of 207 whistleblowers. In a statement, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said, “[This] announcement underscores the important role that whistleblowers play in helping the SEC detect, investigate and prosecute potential violations of the securities laws.” The two most recent awards included a payment of $110 million to an individual who, according to the SEC, provided the SEC and another regulatory agency with “independent analysis that substantially advanced the SEC’s and the other agency’s investigation” and culminated in successful enforcement actions. Another whistleblower also provided original information to the SEC and received an award of approximately $4 million, although the smaller amount reflects the fact that the information passed on was significantly more limited in scope. As is its standard policy, the SEC declined to specifically name either of the whistleblowers involved or the cases and companies to which they were connected.
Despite last-ditch efforts by lobbyists for the crypto community, controversial new cryptocurrency tax requirements buried in the massive bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the US Senate in early August will likely remain unaltered by the House which has committed to vote on the $1 trillion dollar bill by September 27, 2021. The new reporting rules are sending ripples of concern through the cryptocurrency industry and even have some national-security officials worried that their breadth and overreach will only succeed in pushing illicit activities and actors further underground. Overly aggressive regulations risk forcing illegal activity “deeper into anonymizing methods and corners of the internet that would make it more difficult for law enforcement,” according to Jeremy Sheridan, assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service’s investigations office. Moreover, overregulation could also have a chilling effect on domestic innovation and result in the U.S. falling behind other countries that adopt laws and regulations that are more favorable to new technologies. “The U.S. has to make a decision if it wants to be a center of. . . transformational technology that can bring more people into the financial ecosystem. . . [or] get left behind,” said Sigal Mandelker, a former undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in the Treasury Department. Mandelker is now with a private venture capital firm which invests in the crypto markets.