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To avoid having to pay higher taxes, many companies adopted a policy of issuing “at the money” stock options in lieu of additional income, with the idea that the executive or employee would benefit through the option by working to increase the value of the company without exceeding the one million dollar deductibility cap for executive income.When company executives discovered that they had the ability to backdate stock option grants, thus making them both tax deductible and “in the money” on the date of actual issuance, the common practice of stock option backdating for financial gain began on a widespread level.Although many companies have been identified as having problems with backdating, the severity of the problem, and the consequences, fall along a broad spectrum.At one extreme, where it is clear that top management was guilty of conscious wrongdoing in backdating, attempted to conceal the backdating by falsifying documents, and where the backdating resulted in a substantial overstatement of the company's profitability, SEC enforcement actions and even criminal charges have resulted.However, if the company granted options with an exercise price below fair market value, there would be a compensation expense that had to be recognized under applicable accounting rules.If a company backdated its stock options, but failed to recognize a compensation expense, then the company's accounting may not be correct, and its quarterly and annual financial reports to investors may be misleading.Options backdating is the practice of altering the date a stock option was granted, to a usually earlier (but sometimes later) date at which the underlying stock price was lower.
With respect to the more serious cases of backdating, it is likely that most of the criminal actions that the government intended to bring were brought in 2007.
The problem with this practice, according to the SEC, was that stock option backdating, while difficult to prove, could be considered a criminal act.
One of the larger backdating scandals occurred at Brocade Communications, a data storage company.
Corporations, however, have defended the practice of stock option backdating with their legal right to issue options that are already in the money as they see fit, as well as the frequent occurrence in which a lengthy approval process is required.
In 1972, a new revision (APB 25) in accounting rules resulted in the ability of any company to avoid having to report executive incomes as an expense to their shareholders if the income resulted from an issuance of “at the money” stock options.