The Creeping Federalization of Corporate Law
7 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2003
The collapse of Enron and WorldCom, along with only slightly less high profile scandals at numerous other U.S. corporations, has reinvigorated the debate over state regulation of corporate governance. Post-Enron, politicians and pundits called for federal regulation not just of the securities markets but also of internal corporate governance. As Congress and market regulators began implementing some of those ideas, there has been a creeping - but steady - federalization of corporate governance law. The NYSE'S new listing standards regulating director independence is one example of that phenomenon. Other examples appeared to little public debate in the sweeping Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. Taken individually, each of Sarbanes-Oxley's provisions constitutes a significant preemption of state corporate law. Taken together, they constitute the most dramatic expansion of federal regulatory power over corporate governance since the New Deal.
No one seriously doubts that Congress has the power under the Commerce Clause to create a federal law of corporations if it chooses. The question of who gets to regulate public corporations thus is not one of constitutional law but rather of prudence and federalism. In this essay, I advance both economic and non-economic arguments against federal preemption of state corporation law. Competitive federalism promotes liberty as well as shareholder wealth. When firms may freely select among multiple competing regulators, oppressive regulation becomes impractical. If one regulator overreaches, firms will exit its jurisdiction and move to one that is more laissez-faire. In contrast, when there is but a single regulator, exit is no longer an option and an essential check on excessive regulation is lost.
Keywords: corporations, corporate governance, federalism
JEL Classification: K22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation