Warren to SEC: Stop putting big business ahead of investors

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) accused a top financial regulator Thursday of addressing the needs of big business over investors.

In a new letter, Warren made the case that the Securities and Exchange Commission is squandering resources by pursuing a project that would make life easier for big companies but have little benefit for investors. Meanwhile, the regulator has missed statutory deadlines for implementing parts of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

{mosads}“The agency has defied the will of Congress and its mission to protect investors and instead has pursued an agenda aligned with the narrow interests of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and big business,” Warren wrote. “I am therefore asking you reverse course on this ill-conceived effort.”

The letter marks the latest in a long-running feud between one of Congress’s biggest bank critics and Mary Jo White, the head of the SEC. White, a former white-collar attorney and prosecutor, was tapped by President Obama and easily confirmed by the Senate in 2013.

But since then, Warren has repeatedly criticized White’s approach at leading the agency, arguing it has taken a soft stance toward the financial sector and dropped the ball on drafting new rules.

In her latest jab, Warren is taking aim at a White-helmed initiative aimed at streamlining disclosure. White has said she believes investors may be facing “information overload” when it comes to information companies are required to make public, and the agency is exploring whether it can refine what is provided.

But in her letter, Warren painted the project as one “aimed at addressing a problem … that does not exist.”

In response, an SEC spokesperson defended the agency’s work.

“As the Chair has explained previously, the Commission’s initiative is intended to make disclosure better and more meaningful for investors, including streamlining, modifying and providing additional disclosure,” said the spokesperson. “Others, including investors, support efforts to make disclosure more meaningful.”

And while Warren contended investors were not struggling to absorb available information currently, there is support  for streamlining the process.

In a November comment letter to the SEC, the AFL-CIO said it supported “reducing redundancy and addressing ‘information overload,” noting that much of the information in public disclosures is duplicative and not useful to investors.

And the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee said in June that it took “great comfort” in previous comments from White, where she said the goal was not to reduce disclosure, but make it easier to digest.

Instead of examining disclosure, Warren argued the SEC should be pushing companies to make even more information available to investors, and should be focusing its staff and time on finalizing portions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that still need rules.

Warren said there are still 20 mandatory rules required by Dodd-Frank that remain unfinished at the SEC. And she also said the agency should be focused on other projects, such as requiring companies to disclose political spending.

White has repeatedly refused pleas from Democratic lawmakers and liberal groups to implement such rules.

Warren and White previously sparred on the SEC’s agenda at a Senate Banking Committee hearing in June. Warren made the same critique of White then. And she previously described White’s tenure as “extremely disappointing,” contending the agency has treated Wall Street with a light touch, rather than strict rules and enforcement.

This post updated at 3:05 pm and 3:32 pm.

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