Sen. Elizabeth Warren would like SEC Chair Mary Jo White to know that Sen. Warren is disappointed in her. How do I know this? Because Sen. Warren was so fully disappointed that she sat down to write Chair White a 13-page letter expressing this very sentiment no less than three times:
You have now been SEC Chair for over two years, and to date, your leadership of the Commission has been extremely disappointing....
I am disappointed by the significant gap between the promises you made during and shortly after your confirmation and your performance as SEC Chair....
I am disappointed that you have not been the strong leader that many hoped for – and that you promised to be. I hope that you will step up to the job for which you have been confirmed....
Get the picture? Disappointed, disappointed, disappointed!!!
The reasons for Sen. Warren's profound disappointment are explained in her June 2, 2015 letter, and are also discussed here by Compliance Week's Joe Mont. In short, she says, they include (1) the SEC 's failure to finalize important Dodd-Frank rules requiring disclosure of the ratio of CEO pay to the median worker; (2) the SEC's failure to curb the use of waivers for companies found to be in violation of securities law; (3) the SEC continuing to settle the vast majority of its cases without requiring that companies admit guilt; and (4) Chair White having to recuse herself in numerous cases because of her prior employment at a Wall Street defense law firm and her husband's ongoing employment at a Wail Street defense law firm.
Yesterday, Chair White shot back at Sen. Warren, stating that Warren's "mischaracterization of my statements and the agency’s accomplishments is unfortunate." Others also defended White. For example, a lobbyist for the American Bankers Association said that Sen. Warren’s criticism of White's recusals made little sense: “Is it that she would prefer that the chairman go forward and participate in enforcement cases despite the conflict of interest?”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest also stated yesterday that President Obama believes that Chair White is "tough but fair" and remains the right person for the job.
Taking a step back from the specifics of Sen. Warren's letter, Kevin LaCroix raised some very interesting, bigger-picture points on this topic on his D&O Diary blog yesterday. LaCroix wrote that
Even in the bizarre, grandstanding universe that political Washington inhabits, this letter is extraordinary. For starters, Warren is a Democratic senator and White was an appointment of the current Democratic president. In addition, the scolding tone would be aggressive in any kind of letter, but it is particularly noteworthy in a letter that was clearly intended to be public. The suggestion that Warren presumes she not only has the right to publicly criticize White but to tell the SEC chair what to do and how to do her job is also striking.