A revolving door blurs the lines between one of the nation’s most important regulatory agencies and the interests it regulates.
Former employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) routinely help corporations try to influence SEC rulemaking, counter the agency’s investigations of suspected wrongdoing, soften the blow of SEC enforcement actions, block shareholder proposals, and win exemptions from federal law.
The revolving door was on display in 2012 when the investment industry opposed one of the top priorities of the SEC chairman, a plan to tighten regulation of money market funds. Former SEC employees lobbied to block the plan, and an SEC Commissioner who previously worked for an investment firm played a pivotal role in derailing it.
The movement of people to and from the financial industry is a key feature of the SEC, and it has the potential to influence the agency’s culture and values. It matters because the SEC has the power to affect investors, financial markets, and the economy.
Yet, the SEC has exempted certain senior employees from a “cooling off period” that would have restricted their ability to leave the SEC and then represent clients before the agency. In addition, the SEC has shielded some former employees from public scrutiny by blacking out their names in documents they must file when they go through the revolving door.
The SEC is a microcosm of the federal government, where widespread revolving expands the opportunities for private interests to sway public policy.
One academic study suggested that concerns about the SEC’s revolving door are misguided. But the academics looked at only a sliver of the SEC’s work. They did not examine, for instance, how the revolving door affects the SEC’s regulation of Wall Street, its granting of relief to specific companies, its handling of cases related to the financial crisis, or its decisions to drop investigations without bringing charges. The study sought to quantify any influence the revolving door might have on SEC enforcement actions, but the subtleties involved do not lend themselves to such simple measurement.
This report, the Project On Government Oversight’s (POGO) second on the SEC, is based in part on interviews with current and former SEC officials and thousands of federal records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
POGO found that, from 2001 through 2010, more than 400 SEC alumni filed almost 2,000 disclosure forms saying they planned to represent an employer or client before the agency. Those disclosures are just the tip of the iceberg, because former SEC employees are required to file them only during the first two years after they leave the agency.
POGO’s report examines many manifestations of the revolving door, analyzes how the revolving door has influenced the SEC, and explores how to mitigate the most harmful effects.
Follow this link to view a full copy of POGO's report, Dangerous Liaisons: Revolving Door at SEC Creates Risk of Regulatory Capture, including endnotes with explanatory text and citations.