FOIAengine Analysis of SEC Requests Reveals Insights
An analysis of Freedom of Information Act requests to the Securities and Exchange Commission over the past six months highlights investor interest in several of the leading storylines of the year, including the decline of cryptocurrency companies, the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, and presidential politics.
According to PoliScio Analytics’ competitive-intelligence database FOIAengine, which tracks FOIA requests in as close to real-time as their availability allows, eight companies were the subject of ten or more requests over the six months.
FOIA requests to the federal government can be an important early warning of bad publicity, litigation, or stock price movements to come. The following are insights gleaned from our review of the requests.
FOIA REQUEST TOPICS
Individual companies are the focus of most requests. Of the 5,219 FOIA requests submitted to the SEC from April 1 to September 30, 2023, fully 67% (3,472) sought information or documentation relating to specific companies. The remainder sought non-company information such as internal SEC schedules, internal and external communications, meeting summaries, exhibits, transcripts, and general SEC documents.
Over 3,000 companies were targeted in the requests. The 3,472 company-related requests mentioned 3,202 different companies.
A small number of companies were mentioned frequently. Eight companies were the subject of ten or more requests over the six months.Frequently, these requests were linked to major stories in the economy.
- Meta Materials Inc. (225 requests), a leader in advanced materials and nanotechnology, and related companies has faced legal and market challenges for over a year. This prompted by far the largest number of company requests in the analysis.
- FTX Trading Ltd. (28 requests) has been the subject of an increasing number of FOIA requests since it filed for bankruptcy on November 11, 2022. FTX’s collapse shook the volatile cryptocurrency market, which lost billions at the time.
- Ethereum (26 requests), the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, has experienced a devastating plunge in its price as the crypto market imploded.
- The Carlyle Group (24 requests) was mentioned in requests by the Democratic National Committee conducting opposition research on Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin as he considered entering the presidential campaign. Youngkin spent 25 years at Carlyle, where he was named co-CEO in 2020. Many of the DNC’s requests appeared to be aimed at gathering information about possible Republican vice-presidential candidates.
- Signature Bank (18 requests) was shut down on March 12, 2023, after depositors withdrew large sums of money on the heels of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. Regulators feared continued contagion in the banking sector and closed Signature Bank to try to contain the panic.
- Coinbase (14 requests), the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States, revealed a $240 million deposit with Signature Bank, which brought it into the Silicon Valley Bank controversy.
- First Citizens Bank (10 requests), a North Carolina state-chartered commercial bank and a wholly owned subsidiary of First Citizens BancShares, Inc., operates a network of more than 500 branches in 23 states as well a nationwide direct bank. First Citizens BancShares purchased failed Silicon Valley Bank deposits and loans.
- GameStop Corp. (10 requests) is a troubled American video game, consumer electronics, and gaming merchandise retailer. Its stock price has declined significantly and steadily since early 2021.
WHO IS MAKING SEC FOIA REQUESTS
A small number of individuals and organizations account for a disproportionate share of total FOIA requests.
- One person, J. Patrick Gavin of Probes Reporter, LLC, accounted for 26% (1,368 requests) of all requests to the SEC. More on Probes Reporter below.
- Six individuals made 100 or more requests during the six months, accounting for 43% (2,268) of total requests to the SEC: J. Patrick Gavin of Probes Reporter (1,368); Teresa Yu, whose organization is not identified (249); Anthony Qi, whose organization is not identified (218); Malgorzata Brozyna of RoyaltyStat LLC (165); Elias Neuendorf of Venture Valuation AG (134); and Ayana Stubblefield of ktMine (131).
- Fifty-two individuals filed ten or more FOIA requests.
Using PoliScio’s categorization of requester types, our research shows that a broad range of interests are submitting FOIA requests, including companies, universities, news media, law firms, non-profits, and political organizations. Following is the ranking of requester types based on the total number of requests during the six months.
- Commercial Organizations (1,381 requests). This includes companies, consulting firms, research firms, and other businesses.
- Probes Reporter, LLC (1,368). This company, which now goes by the name of Disclosure Insight, except on its FOIA requests to the SEC, is categorized as News Media by the SEC. Its website characterizes the company as an “independent investment research firm.” Due to its unique status and voluminous requests, for this article we have listed Probes Reporter as its own category.
- Educational (402 requests). Many university students, faculty, and administrators file FOIA requests.
- News Media (282). Leading news media requesters are the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and its affiliates, and the New York Times.
- Law Firms (211). Over 100 different law firms submitted FOIA requests.
- Financial Institutions (104). This includes investment firms, hedge funds, and banks.
- Non-Profits (52). This includes both traditional and politically oriented non-profits.
- Political Organizations (42). The Democratic National Committee was the only political organization submitting requests. Republican organizations generally submit their requests through policy-related non-profits and private research firms.
- Other (22).
- Federal Government (13). Departments and agencies of the federal government occasionally submit FOIA requests.
- Local and State Governments (8). Most of these were filed by state governmental agencies.
The SEC submission system does not require submitters to identify their organization. Twenty-six percent (1,338 requests) of SEC submitters did not provide their organization, or disclosure of the requester was restricted because of FOIA exemptions.
Next: News media requests to the SEC.
Randy E. Miller, co-creator of FOIAengine, is a Washington lawyer, publisher, and former government official. He has developed several online information products and was a partner at Hogan Lovells, where he founded the firm’s Brussels office and represented clients on international regulatory matters. Miller also has served as a White House trade lawyer, Senior Legal Adviser to the U.S. Mission to the World Trade Organization, policy director to Senator Bob Dole, and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He is a graduate of Yale and Georgetown Law. FOIAengine is a product of PoliScio Analytics (PoliScio.com), a new venture specializing in U.S. political and governmental research, co-founded by Miller and Washington journalist John A. Jenkins. Learn more about FOIAengine here. Sign up here to become a beta user of FOIAengine.
Write to Randy E. Miller at email@example.com.