Regardless of my belief that Republicans are being ridiculous by trying to make a scandal out of the SEC allowing a public comment period for a rule change prompted by the JOBS Act, I think I’m pretty clear on the record about the SEC’s failings as a regulatory body. William Cohan wrote well on this point over the weekend. Mary Schapiro may have wanted to sustain her legacy as pro-investor, but her enduring legacy will be as anti-accountability.
I understand the time-honored ritual of praising a departing public servant for his or her selflessness in passing up millions of dollars in the private sector to take on the thankless task of heading up a powerful government agency. But enough already.
Let’s face it: Mary Schapiro did a lousy job as head of the SEC. What we needed was an SEC that would not only do its primary job of protecting investors from the likes of Bernie Madoff but also would hold Wall Street executives accountable for their extraordinarily bad — and, yes, in some cases criminal — behavior leading up to the 2007 and 2008 financial crisis.
What President Barack Obama gave us in Schapiro was yet another Wall Street regulator deeply indebted to Wall Street itself. Schapiro, the former chief executive officer of the banks’ self-regulatory agency, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, has long had her own fortunes closely tied to those of banking bigwigs. When she left Finra in 2009 to take the SEC job, its board paid her a $9 million bonus — a little something to remember them by.
Remember them she did. Instead of finding a head of enforcement with teeth, Schapiro appointed Robert Khuzami, former general counsel of Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) in the Americas. In that previous job, Khuzami approved the sale to investors of billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations that would later prove beyond toxic — and one of the main causes of the financial collapse.
Exactly. And as a result, Khuzami and Schapiro basically protected Wall Street, through toothless settlements where the top financial institutions never had to admit wrongdoing. They provided almost no criminal referrals to the Justice Department in securities cases, even with no-brainer events like the theft at Jon Corzine’s MF Global, or the voluminous amount of criminal activity uncovered by probes like the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, or the Valukas report on Lehman Brothers and their off-balance sheet work.
Cohan views Elisse Walter as a FINRA “crony” of Schapiro’s, and obviously views Khuzami as an unacceptable successor. Oddly enough, he reserves praise for Sallie Krawcheck, a longtime banking industry executive who has tried to reinvent herself as a consumer and investor advocate in recent years. But this is a more outside-the-box choice:
I still believe the best person to lead the SEC at this moment remains former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. He would fearlessly hold Wall Street accountable for its past sins, as he did when he was New York State attorney general and as he now does as a cable television host. (Disclosure: I am an occasional guest on his show.)
This is as much a pipe dream as Neil Barofsky or Sheila Bair or Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets. But at least it matches the personnel to the mission of fixing rigged markets with strong enforcement and monitoring.