Obama's SEC Choice Promises Aggressive Action

January 15, 2009 - 2:55 PM
President elect-Barack Obama's choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission promised Thursday to act aggressively to revitalize the embattled agency's enforcement efforts.

In this Dec. 18, 2008 file photo, Mary Schapiro listens as President-elect Barack Obama introduces her as his designate for Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman during a news conference in Chicago. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Washington (AP) - President elect-Barack Obama's choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission promised Thursday to act aggressively to revitalize the embattled agency's enforcement efforts.
 
With investor confidence shaken in the financial crisis, Mary Schapiro said the SEC must be given the resources it needs to investigate and pursue "those who cut corners, cheat investors and break the law."
 
Schapiro also pledged at her Senate confirmation hearing to "re-engage" the SEC with investors, and to do deepen the agency's commitment to investor protection, transparency and accountability. She is chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the securities industry's primary self-policing organization, and also has extensive experience as a government regulator in Washington.
 
Obama named Schapiro as the next SEC chairman at a time when the agency is being called on to help restore investor confidence shattered by the worst financial crisis in more than 70 years.
 
"We need a much stronger regulator than we have had in the recent past," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the Senate Banking Committee hearing. "The only way the SEC is going to find crooks is if it's actively looking for them."
 
The SEC stands at one of the most difficult times in its history, buffeted by criticism for failing to detect signs that major Wall Street banks were in trouble before the financial crisis erupted last year, and for possibly lax oversight and enforcement in other areas.
 
After news of the alleged Ponzi scheme run by Bernard Madoff stunned Wall Street and investors worldwide last month, revelations surfaced that SEC staff repeatedly failed over the course of a decade to fully investigate credible allegations against the disgraced money manager.
 
Schapiro said she would create a new centralized process within the SEC for improving communication among staff and taking in tips regarding fraudulent activity so vital information doesn't slip through the cracks.
 
Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., asked Schapiro about the failure of FINRA, the organization she leads, to detect the alleged $50 billion Madoff fraud in its inspections of his brokerage operation.
 
Because the alleged fraud was carried out through Madoff's investment business, and FINRA was empowered to inspect only the brokerage operation, it wasn't possible for her organization to discover the violations, Schapiro said.
 
A primary lesson of the Madoff tragedy is the "stovepipe approach" that governs financial regulation, in which various regulatory agencies and government authorities oversee different parts of the market and sometimes compete with each other, doesn't work, Schapiro said.
 
Obama's selection of Schapiro last month met with mixed reactions from consumer and investor advocates. Some said her position within Wall Street's regulatory apparatus made her less suitable than an outsider who would shake things up when change is sorely needed.