Compliance is the new corporate governance. The compliance function is the means by which firms adapt behavior to legal, regulatory, and social norms. Formerly, this might have been conceived as a typical governance matter to be handled at the discretion of the board of directors. Compliance, however, does not fit traditional models of corporate governance. It does not come from the board of directors, state corporate law, or federal securities law. Compliance amounts instead to an internal governance structure imposed upon the firm from the outside by enforcement agents. This insight has important implications, both practical and theoretical, for corporate law and corporate governance.
This Article pairs a detailed descriptive study of the contemporary compliance function with a normative account of its incompatibility with current conceptions of corporate governance. It argues that compliance alters the political economy of American business, challenges governance efficiency, and makes old theories of the firm new again. Prescriptively, the Article calls for greater transparency and a more limited role for government in designing corporate governance mechanisms.