The often cozy relationship between financial regulators and the institutions they monitor is no secret, and a recent report on the Securities and Exchange Commission by a government watchdog group makes a compelling case for limiting the flow of industry insiders between the public and private sectors. The report by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) takes a look at dozens of examples where an SEC employee’s job before or after working at the agency created a conflict of interest that may have influenced the agency’s ability to regulate.It was published soon after Obama nominated former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to be the new director of the SEC. While White has an impressive record as a prosecutor during the 1990s, she’s spent the last decade at a white collar law firm. Many Wall Street watchers have raised questions about whether her former clients — JPMorgan among them — constituted a conflict of interest.
We asked Michael Smallberg, author of the POGO report, for his suggestions on what concerned citizens can do to help close the revolving door. Start by reading Chapter 9 of his report, outlining the reforms he thinks are needed, or reading our Q&A with him. Then, consider taking a few of the actions he recommends below.
- Call or write the members of the Senate Banking Committee in advance of Mary Jo White's confirmation hearing, and urge them to ask Ms. White how she will handle potential conflicts of interest arising from her recent work representing large companies such as JPMorgan before the SEC.
- Contact the White House and urge them to recruit senior officials from a wider array of backgrounds, not just those who have experience representing corporate interests.
- Contact congressional representatives and senators and urge them to enact tougher rules to slow the revolving door between government and industry.
- Contact other financial regulatory agencies beyond the SEC (e.g., the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corproration (FDIC)) and urge them to enforce the rules and provide more transparency about who goes through the revolving door and the work that agency alumni do for regulated businesses. Smallberg says that one first step regulatory bodies could take would be to publish post-employment disclosure statements online so the public and the press could see which companies employ former regulators, making revolving door politics more transparent.
- The SEC and other agencies are still in the process of implementing dozens of rules under the Dodd-Frank Act. If there are specific issues that you feel strongly about, you can read through the rules and submit an official comment to the SEC, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Financial Stability Oversight Council. Large industry groups, instead of individual citizens, tend to dominate this part of the process.
Note: The contact form on the Senate Banking Committee's website is, unfortunately, broken. To contact the committee, call or send a fax using the numbers listed at the bottom left of the committee home page.