On the surface, at least, there would appear to be some kind of groundswell of negative opinion against SEC Chair Mary Jo White. After all, an anti-White petition to "tell President Obama, loud and clear: No more business as usual – Mary Jo White needs to go" has now generated over 116,000 e-signatures.
In addition, as I've previously discussed here, activists have actually taken to the D.C. streets and metro stations to take issue with Chair White via illustrated "superhero-themed" posters and most recently through a “Dump (Mary Jo) Truck” that someone drove between Union Station, K Street and the White House for a couple days in mid-September.
And yet, this apparent groundswell has never seemed quite legitimate to me. I recall seeing a tweet from the actor Mark Ruffalo, of all people, back in June 2015 in which Ruffalo tried to rally his nearly 2 million followers to "Sign up! Act UP! Stand Up!" and sign the anti-White petition noted above. Ruffalo's tweet linked to a press release from Credo, the activist group that began the petition, that contained all sorts of nonsense and dubious statements about how Chair White had "lied to a U.S. senator about the status of pending regulatory matters” and how her "entire career represents the worst of the revolving door between Wall Street and government – it’s long past time for her to go.”
I tried to ask Ruffalo about his tweet but he didn't respond--he probably had to go to the Oscars or something else related to his day job, which presumably does not involve a lot of careful scrutiny of Chair White's performance as SEC chairman:
@MarkRuffalo Do you really think you understand this enough to be advocating? So much B.S. in that Credo petition. https://t.co/8sd6i1j6zJ
— Bruce Carton (@brucecarton) June 29, 2015
An article today by Robert Schmidt of Bloomberg hits on several of the points that have been bugging me for a while about these anti-White activities. Let's start with the petition. I feel like I regularly see surveys that show, for example, that most people in this country cannot even name the U.S. Secretary of Defense. A recent poll of millennials showed that 77 percent could not name one U.S. senator in their home state. And yet there are 116,000 people who understand (and object to) the policy decisions being made by the chairman of the SEC to the point that they will advocate for her to be replaced? Puh-lease.
In fact, Schmidt explains, these signatures are the product of some very effective activist groups who have aligned against Chair White. Schmidt notes that while the people leading these efforts may not understand the intricacies of the securities laws, they do have an "e-mail list numbering in the millions, social-media savvy and a willingness to publicly shame the head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission." As the political director for Credo acknowledged to Bloomberg, “Having 100,000 people sign a petition about a government official at the SEC that they have never heard of is pretty astounding.” Credo's efforts similarly got 1,500 people to call the White House demanding that SEC Chair Mary Jo White be replaced. "Many had probably never heard of her until recently," says Schmidt.
The anti-White campaign has also gained traction because of criticism from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who in June 2015 saw fit to write a 13-page open letter to Chair White in which she enumerated her various "disappointments" in Chair White's leadership of the SEC. Schmidt notes that while the activist groups say they "don’t expressly coordinate either with Warren or among themselves, they watch each other on social media to see what tactics gain traction and then jump in with a broadside of their own."
In the past, it took a lot of dissatisfied people to make a lot of noise. We continue to learn that in the social media era, a very small number of dissatisfied people with the right tools and tactics can generate just as much noise!