By Frank Byrt
Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, was unanimously confirmed as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by the US Senate on April 8, 2013.
White, who is expected to start work at the SEC within days, replaces Elisse B. Walter, who led the agency since the departure of Mary L. Schapiro in December 2012.
In addition to her work as a federal prosecutor, White defended big Wall Street clients, such as JPMorgan Chase and former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, while an attorney and partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. She also won high-profile fraud cases in New York, including bringing down Mafia boss John Gotti.
The Senate's decision was as expected after the Senate Banking Committee voted 21-to-1 in White's favor last month.
White is retiring from her law firm and will recuse herself for a year from most matters involving former clients to avoid potential conflicts of interest, she said in an ethics disclosure letter.
The SEC, which regulates the public markets, is under pressure from Congress to complete new rules for Wall Street that take aim at financial fraud.
"It will be a high priority throughout my tenure to further strengthen the enforcement function of the SEC", White told the Senate Banking Committee on March 12. "It must be fair, but it also must be bold and unrelenting."
White said her priorities include finalizing rules regulations required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, particularly in the areas of over-the-counter derivatives and credit-rating agencies, as well as implementing the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which seeks to ease rules for the raising of capital for new companies.
Teresa S. Polley, president and CEO of the Financial Accounting Foundation (FAF), the organization that oversees the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), said in an April 9 statement",The FAF appreciates and applauds Chairman White's strong commitment to the Commission's mission to promote relevant, reliable, consistent, and comparable accounting financial and reporting standards that enable investors to make well-informed investment decisions and that contribute to the efficiency of our capital markets. We at the FAF, the FASB, and the GASB stand ready to assist her in achieving her goals."
Similarly, the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ), a public policy organization affiliated with the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) also saluted the hiring. CAQ Executive Director Cindy Fornelli said in an April 8 statement",Mary Jo White is an excellent choice to serve as the Chairman of the SEC. A former US Attorney, Chairman White has a sterling record of enforcing the law in our capital markets and fighting for investors' interests. The CAQ vigorously supports her position that as Chairman, the American public will be her client. The SEC has a proud tradition as the investor's advocate, and Chairman White is well-suited to carry that banner. The CAQ and the public company auditing profession offer congratulations to Chairman White."