When Mary Schapiro was announced as Obama’s pick for SEC chair, she was warmly received, in general, as someone likely to restore the agency’s regulatory teeth after the free-market ideologues who ran the place under Bush.
But it looks Schapiro’s confirmation hearings, set to begin this week, may not go perfectly smoothly all the same.
Schapiro heads the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the non-governmental body that supervises oversees U.S. brokerages. And as we noted last week, Finra, under Schapiro, failed to catch Bernard Madoff’s alleged “$50 billion ponzi scheme”. Indeed, it conducted an inquiry into Madoff’s operation that concluded, in 2007, that he had violated certain technical rules and had failed to promptly report some transactions, but identified no more serious wrong-doing — a very similar story to the SEC’s.
Still, it’s also worth pointing out that Finra’s investigation into Madoff was focused on his brokerage operation, which, according to a Finra spokeswoman, is all that it is legal empowered to look into. Madoff’s business was split into brokerage and investment-advisory arms — but the alleged fraud, investigators believe, was centered on the investment-advisory arm. So Finra would appear to bear less responsibility than SEC for missing Madoff.
But that’s not the only potential confirmation headache for Schapiro. She was accused in two recent lawsuits of making misleading statements in an effort to build support for the creation of Finra, which was created two years ago by merging the regulatory units of the NYSE and the Nasdaq. Schapiro headed the Nasdaq regulator at the time, and became the head of Finra, seeing her yearly salary rise from $2 million to $3.1 million.
The New York Times explains the details:
Among the misstatements that she is accused of making is that the Internal Revenue Service had prohibited the NASD from paying each member more than $35,000 as part of the merger deal. Although an NASD proxy statement issued while the deal was pending said that the I.R.S. would not permit the organization to give more compensation to members, the I.R.S. did not actually issue a ruling on the matter until March 2007, long after the deal closed and three months after the members voted to approve it.
The first lawsuit was rejected by a Federal judge but is on appeal. The second suit, which is similar and was brought by a former SEC lawyer, appears to have been filed soon after Schapiro was nominated to head the SEC, though lawyers for the plaintiffs say it was in the works before then.
Looks like those hearings could be more lively than we thought. We’ll be watching closely later this week…