Yesterday President Obama nominated Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. The administration and establishment media highlighted White’s experience as a prosecutor and hinted at the possibility of a more aggressive SEC. But now that there has been time to digest the nomination there seems to be some familiar problems.
Mary Jo White isn’t just any prosecutor… Mary Jo White has built the latter part of her career leveraging her position in governmental law enforcement positions to land lucrative private-sector jobs defending Wall Streeters. In moving through that revolving door, she has been a part of a corrupt culture that has weakened the power of the very law enforcement agency President Obama is now nominating her to run….
The president’s nominee not only made her name preventing the agency she’s going to run from investigating Wall Street CEOs, she was involved (whether directly or indirectly, it’s not clear) in the firing of an SEC enforcement official for daring to try to do his job. Her work in compromising the SEC was so shady, in fact, that it became the subject of an official U.S. Senate investigation.
It’s deja vu all over again.
While many of those who work for the SEC have previously worked in finance, White’s maneuvering to get Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack free of an insider trading investigation is particularly distasteful.
Morgan Stanley needed someone with an inside line to the Securities and Exchange Commission. It was 2005, and the investment banking giant’s board of directors was hearing that its top candidate for CEO could be implicated in a probe of insider trading at a major hedge fund. Seeking clarity, the board engaged the lawyer many considered the best in the business: Mary Jo White.
White swiftly lived up to her reputation, setting Morgan Stanley’s board at ease. According to a report later prepared by the Senate Finance Committee, she emailed and then spoke by phone with the agency’s chief of enforcement and learned that the board’s CEO choice, John Mack, was most likely in the clear. The SEC investigation — which had seemed to be leading closer to Mack — disappeared, and Mack took the helm at Morgan Stanley.
The Mack case looked particularly suspicious and was at the center of a Rolling Stone article on corruption at the SEC. The implication clearly being that Mack received special favor due to his money and power. The SEC net breaks when anything of size gets caught in it.
In keeping with the incestuous nature of Washington and Wall Street, White also has a conflict of interest, her husband John White.
The biggest potential fly in the ointment on the conflicts side is that her husband, John White, who headed the SEC’s corporate finance section under Chris Cox and was heavily involved in detailed Sarbanes Oxley rulemaking, and now that he is back at Cravath, has been lobbying against regulation.
Those are going to be some interesting dinner conversations.
So here we are again forced to deal with another Wall Street crony that was spit out of the revolving door. Hey now she can sabotage insider trading investigations from the inside. It’s not change you can believe in, it’s not change at all.