The revolving door has been swinging rapidly for employees leaving the Securities and Exchange Commission to work in the private sector to represent big companies in actions brought by the agency. But while the commission gathers post-employment information from former employees, it does not make this information readily available.
Even when these records of the SEC's so-called “revolving door” are requested through the Freedom of Information Act, they tend to be incomplete and heavily redacted, according to a report by the Project on Government Oversight.
If an employee leaves the SEC and within two years and decides to work representing a company before the SEC, that employee must send a statement to the SEC that discloses the new job. POGO obtained those statements for a 5-year period, 2006 through 2010, and used the records to created a searchable online database.
In about a month, POGO plans to update its data with more than 5 years of additional former SEC employee statements it requested from the FEC, POGO investigator Michael Smallberg said. The data will include 2001-2011 information, and “it will let us look at a longer 10-year trend in these revolving door movements,” he said.
According to the POGO data, the most active former employees from 2006 to 2010 had previously worked in the SEC's enforcement division. For example, within two years of leaving the enforcement division at the SEC, Peter Bresnan took a lawyer job at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and worked on the SEC v. Bank of America Corp. case. Bank of America settled for $150 million in the case, which alleged that before the bank merged with Merrill Lynch, it did not disclose employee bonuses or financial losses to shareholders.
“There are no laws or regulations that would generally prevent a former SEC employee from going to work for a regulated entity immediately after leaving the Commission,” according to POGO's report. “However, when a former employee appears before the SEC on behalf of an outside client just days after leaving the Commission, it raises questions about whether they might have shown favorable treatment to their new employer during their time at the SEC.”
Former SEC securities compliance examiner Matthew Beller left that job for at GPS Partners, which provides hedge fund support mostly for corporations and the wealthy. He now is the chief compliance officer at COR Capital, another investment advisory company. In his required statement to the SEC, Beller asked that his letter receive “confidential treatment … because it may refer to an ongoing nonpublic investigation.”
Margaret “Mitzi” Moore, previously senior counsel in the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations division of the SEC, sent one statement to the commission to cover a wide range of topics she planned to discuss with then SEC chairmen Christopher Cox on behalf of the “Financial Services Roundtable.”
According to Moore's letter, “The Roundtable represents 100 of the largest integrated financial services companies providing banking, insurance, and investment products and services to the American consumer,” and “Roundtable member companies provide fuel for America's economic engine, accounting directly for $40.7 trillion in managed assets, $960 billion in revenue and 2.3 million jobs.”
These SEC statements were given to POGO in pdf files, so the government watchdog group had to enter pertinent information into a database by hand, Smallberg said. On each form, the SEC allowed POGO to see the name of the firm the former SEC employee went to work for, but the agency redacted which companies those firms represent. Some of the files also appear to be missing, based on information POGO gathered about former SEC employees and the date that former employee spoke before the commission.
The reasoning the SEC gave for redacting client names was often that the client is involved in an ongoing investigation. In that case, when the SEC is redacting client names on records from 2001, “it kind of makes you wonder what's going on with these investigations,” Smallberg said.
Along with its report that came out with the 2006-2010 data, POGO issued a recommendation that Dodd-Frank financial reform rules include requiring the SEC to post all of its former employee statements online. That has yet to happen.
About the data
What: Disclosure documents former SEC employees are required to send the FEC if their new job involves representing clients that the SEC oversees. The statements include the statement sender's current employer and the issues the sender will address before the commission she or he used to work for.
Where: The SEC does not make this data available online despite requests. However, the Project on Government Oversight has requested the records and turned them into a searchable online database.
Availability: The data can be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request but the SEC redacts some information, including the name of the company the former SEC employee represents. The FOIA request also only returns pdf files, not an actual data set. The easiest way to access the data is through POGO's website. POGO is considering making a bulk version of its dataset available upon request.
Usability: Through the SEC, the records are pdf files and cannot be analyzed in a database. Through POGO's website, the information from the records has been turned into a searchable online database that does not yet allow users to download raw data.