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The SEC's Double Rainbow of 735 Enforcement Actions: 'What Does it Mean??!!', Part II

Bruce Carton | March 2, 2012

Back in November 2011, after the SEC announced that it had filed a record 735 enforcement actions, I wrote here:

Like a double rainbow, a record number of SEC enforcement actions brought in a single year must mean something. But what? "What does it mean?!"

(click here if you don't get the double rainbow reference)

In a speech last week, SEC Chair Mary Schapiro argued that the record number of actions in 2011 meant that the 2010 reorganization of the Enforcement Division was a success. She stated that

Meanwhile, the Enforcement Division – led by today's other co-Chair Rob Khuzami –revamped its operations, putting additional talented attorneys back on the front lines, creating specialized units, and streamlining procedures.

Those reforms are already producing record results. I won't steal all of Rob's thunder, but last year the SEC brought a record 735 enforcement actions, including some of the most complex cases we've ever worked on. 

While Enforcement's reorganization has been widely hailed as an important and effective move, however, a Bloomberg article published today makes the case that the record results are not as impressive as they may appear. The article offers some interesting details on the cases that make up the record total in 2011:

  • 230 actions (31 percent) were not new, but were rather "follow-on administrative proceedings" instituting penalties in cases that already had been brought. Bloomberg reports that excluding these follow-on actions, the SEC filed 499 cases in 2011, fewer than the 520 in 2009 (before the 2010 reorganization of the Enforcement division).
  • The SEC filed the most "delinquent filings” actions since at least 2006. Delinquent filings cases require little work on the part of the agency and aren't related to work by the specialized units. Follow-on administrative proceedings and delinquent filings cases together made up 49 percent of the actions in fiscal 2011, compared with 36 percent in 2009.
  • The SEC "brought the fewest number of accounting-fraud cases in at least a decade in 2011."

So maybe the 735 enforcement cases in 2011 are not a double rainbow. Maybe just a single rainbow?