The law firm that employs John W. White, husband of Mary Jo White, Chairperson of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), has changed its marketing material after being scrutinized for the way the firm advertised its connections to regulators.
The firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, was trumpeting John White’s work for an advisory group to the influential Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) just as Mary Jo White, in her capacity as SEC chair, is considering candidates to lead the PCAOB.
The appointment of Mary Jo White as Chairperson of the SEC in 2013 caused controversy because she had a long and distinguished career as a Wall Street lawyer. Both she and her husband John had spent an extensive part of their legal careers trying to protect Wall Street firms from government regulators and prosecutors.
People worried she had too many conflicts of interest and cited a 2011 Rolling Stone story that claimed White herself was involved as a private lawyer in squashing an investigation by the SEC into former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack for insider trading. The SEC investigator, Gary Aguirre, whose investigation White helped crush was later fired and the investigation into John Mack dropped. Aguirre later was paid $755,000 for wrongful dismissal.
People were right to worry. According to The New York Times, White has already had to reccuse herself from more than four dozen enforcement investigations. Those recussals have slowed down the regulatory process and in at least one case, The Times claims, White’s recussal led to “lighter punishment.”
Though many of her recussuals are related to her own work for Wall Street firms at Debevoise & Plimpton, many are also related to her husbands work at Cravath which has continued despite her appointment as head of the SEC.
— CREDO Mobile (@CREDOMobile) September 15, 2015
White’s tenure as SEC chair has left a lot to be desired by activists that wanted a more aggressive SEC to deter Wall Street crime. On September 15th, CREDO Action sent a mobile billboard titled “The Dump (Mary Jo) Truck” around Washington DC which was timed to coincide with the seven year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
The billboard on the truck echoes many activists’ sentiment with the quote “SEC Chair Mary Jo White works for the banks, not you.” CREDO’s campaign is aimed at pressuring President Obama to replace White with someone who will be more committed to aggressively taking on Wall Street.
Perhaps a place to start is to find candidates for the SEC chair job with less conflicts of interest.