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SEC's Whistleblower Bounties Will be Awarded Subjectively

Joe Mont | June 6, 2012

The Dodd-Frank Act has led the Securities and Exchange Commission to institute a bounty program to offer cash rewards to informants that goes beyond anti-retaliation protections for those who provide information that relates to a possible securities law violation that has occurred, is ongoing, or is about to occur.

Exactly how much of a reward those who come forward to report malfeasance remains subjective, however, especially given that the first bounty under the new law has yet to be doled out.

Once an investigation yields monetary sanctions over $1 million, a whistleblower is entitled to between 10-30 percent of the total sanctions collected.

“It is in the SEC's sole discretion as to how much of the award there is – whether it is 10 percent, 30 percent or somewhere in-between,”said Jane Norberg, deputy chief for the SEC's Office of the Whistleblower, during a panel discussion at Compliance Week 2012 on Wednesday. “I know people want to know how we are going to calculate it, but there really is no hard and fast formula at this point.”

Norberg was able to shed light, however, on factors that could increase or decrease, an award.

To start with, those eligible need to have approached the SEC on thir own accord.

“Voluntarily means you cane to s with the information, not that we came to you and asked for it,”she said.

As for the tallying the $1 million threshold, “we put everything into the pot – that means disgorgement, penalties and monetary sanctions are all thrown into the pot,” she said.

One of the major factors that will impact the size of an award is whether the informant cooperated with an internal compliance program. Doing so, could increase the reward; interfering with an investigation will shrink it.

What the SEC hopes to avoid are whistleblowers who stay silent, biding their time as sanctions grow and so does their reward.

Internal reporting is not required. To encourage informants to initially work with internal compliance programs, however, the SEC allows a grace period of 120 days for those who want to deal internally first and turn to regulators as a last resort.

“We are going to look at who came forward first,” she says. If you went to your company on Day One and came to the SEC on Day 119, we will count that.”

The whistleblower is also “credited with all of the information” that is uncovered.

"if they came to us with a small piece of information, the tip of the iceberg, that leads to an internal investigation, the whistleblower gets credit for the whole iceberg.”

The culpability of an informant will likely decrease an award, but not necessarily leave them with nothing.

“I know that was a little bit of a controversial point when the rules were coming into play,” she says. “A lot of commentators said they didn't think we should award anything to a person who had anything to do with any violation. What the Commission said is that sometimes we need people with dirty hands to point us in the right direction. It is not necessarily a good feeling for everyone, but sometimes it is necessary.”