This week, President Barack Obama nominated former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). If confirmed by the Senate, White would take over the helm at the SEC from Elisse Walter, who is serving out the rest of former SEC chair Mary Schapiro’s term – who resigned last November.
Ms. White served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. The first woman to serve in that role, she built a reputation as a tough prosecutor with an expertise in pursuing white collar crimes and complex securities and financial fraud cases. White currently serves as a top lawyer at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, where she heads the litigation department and represents individuals and corporations accused of white-collar crimes and securities-law violations. It is believed that this experience will make her an ideal candidate to implement Obama’s Wall Street reform legislation.
White’s appointment represents a shift for the top position where she would be the first prosecutor to head the 79-year-old SEC. Traditionally, most SEC chairmen have come from Wall Street or the ranks of private securities lawyers. The choice of White is likely intended to bolster the agency’s enforcement profile in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Coming from an enforcement background, White is expected to give high priority to expanding the enforcement efforts of the SEC.
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The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently indicated that by April of 2013, it plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. This rule could have broad sweeping effects as it’s estimated that numerous large companies, including almost half of the S&P 100 index, do not currently disclose their political contributions.
This move is in response to alarm raised by several firms, “watch-groups”, and individuals following the 2012 election which saw at least $400 million in “dark money” (political spending funded by undisclosed donors) spent on political candidates. These proponents claim that following the Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” ruling – whereby corporations may spend freely from their treasuries on political activities – a corporate political transparency rule is needed to protect and inform investors as to where their money is being spent.
While the push for a new rule by the SEC has gained strong support, there are others who oppose such measures. These opponents argue that such rules would harm shareholders because the rules would give unions, which would not be subject to them, an advantage over corporations with respect to political spending; and that political spending is beneficial for shareholders. Furthermore, some argue that the SEC lacks the expertise, as well as the necessary statutory and constitutional authority, to promulgate such rules.
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