Scandal Enforcement at the SEC: Salience and the Arc of the Option Backdating Investigations
Stephen J. Choi
New York University School of Law
Adam C. Pritchard
University of Michigan Law School
Anat Carmy Wiechman
New York University (NYU)
March 6, 2012
We study the impact of scandal-driven media scrutiny on the SEC’s allocation of enforcement resources. We focus on the SEC’s investigations of option backdating in the wake of numerous media articles on the practice of backdating. We find that as the level of media scrutiny of option backdating increased, the SEC shifted its mix of investigations significantly toward backdating investigations and away from investigations involving other accounting issues. We test the hypothesis that SEC pursued more marginal investigations into backdating as the media frenzy surrounding the practice persisted at the expense of pursuing more egregious accounting issues that did not involve backdating. Our event study of stock market reactions to the initial disclosure of backdating investigations shows that those reactions declined over our sample period. We also find that later backdating investigations are less likely to target individuals and less likely to accompanied by a parallel criminal investigation. Looking at the consequences of the SEC’s backdating investigations, later investigations were more likely to be terminated or produce no monetary penalties. We find that the magnitude of the option backdating accounting errors diminished over time relative to other accounting errors that attracted SEC investigations.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 58
Keywords: Option backdating, SEC enforcement
JEL Classification: K22, K23
Date posted: July 5, 2011 ; Last revised: March 7, 2012
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