Wall Street’s chief regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is appears to be trying to reshape it somewhat battered image as soft on securities violators. Critics say it is too focused on minor cases and the agency is not aggressive enough in forcing wrongdoers to admit liability.
The agency contends that it has been ramping up enforcement. And it is quietly pursuing some high-profile cases that could enable it to redefine its regulatory role and reclaim some of it's lost credabilty as a serious regulator.
Progress in the insider trading cases comes as the criminal investigation of insider trading in New York has slowed, with federal prosecutors’ efforts stymied by a recent appellate court ruling that has made it harder to mount cases. Coming out ahead on any of these fronts would be a boon for the agency, but for the moment the SEC finds itself on the defensive.
In a public dressing-down earlier this year, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, called on the agency to be more aggressive in pursuing Wall Street banks. Ms. Warren has called out SEC Chairwoman Mary Joe White as not being quicker to enforce her own policy of requiring parties that settle to admit liability and wrongdoing.
At the same time, the United States Chamber of Commerce as well as other observors have criticized the agency’s use of administrative courts, where judges appointed by the SEC often hear cases. A number of defendants have filed lawsuits arguing that these courts give the securities regulator unfair advantage.