In Parting Words, SEC’s White Warns Of Political Meddling

She says regulators’ independence best serves investors.

Reviewed by: Sarah Lynch
Edited by: Sarah Lynch

Washington (Reuters) – Outgoing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White had some harsh parting words for Congress on Tuesday and a plea to the incoming administration to ensure the regulator remains independent and insulated from political pressures.

In what is likely her final speech before stepping down after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office on Friday, White lamented the "prescriptive" rule-writing requirements that Congress has imposed on the SEC and said such efforts harm the SEC's ability to get things done or exercise discretion on complicated market issues.

"The strength and utility of the agency’s structure depends on an environment that rewards expertise and frank dialogue, not partisan affiliation and political games," White said in prepared remarks to the Economic Club of New York.

"If the ability and resolve of commissioners to act independently diminishes, so too will the opportunity for solutions that, while politically unpopular, best serve investors and markets."

White Avoided Major Market Crises

White became SEC chair in the spring of 2013. Unlike her predecessors, she did not have to deal with putting out fires from market crises.

Her tenure was marked largely by efforts to complete a lengthy list of rules required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act.

Trump's choice to head the SEC, attorney Jay Clayton, has not opined publicly on his priorities or future rule-making plans.

White's speech did not mention Trump or Clayton by name. But she urged future SEC leaders to resist lobbying by interest groups or other pressures, and do what is best for investors and the economy as a whole.

Best Moves Will Draw Criticism

"The choices ahead for the agency ... will not be easy," she said. "Continuing to build an effective post-crisis market regulator will mean imposing measures that sometimes draw sharp outcry from interest groups."

White reflected a bit on her own tenure at the SEC, which she acknowledged has often been marked by "hard decisions that have attracted criticism from both political parties."

She also took a parting shot at some legislation being pushed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

One bill, which passed last week, would impose additional requirements on the SEC to conduct economic and other cost-benefit analyses before it can adopt new rules.

White said it would "provide no benefit to investors" and hamstring the agency from responding to a market crisis.