WASHINGTON – The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White, will leave office at the end of the Obama administration, the agency said Monday.
White, a former federal prosecutor and private securities lawyer, was appointed by President Barack Obama in February 2013. Her term doesn’t end until 2019.
President-elect Donald Trump is due to take office Jan. 20 and likely will name his own choice to head the market watchdog agency in the near future. His nominee could move to unwind restrictions on Wall Street banks and corporations. The Trump transition team has set as a goal to “dismantle” the Dodd-Frank reforms law enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Paul Atkins, a former SEC commissioner who is the team’s point man for financial regulatory agencies, is an avowed opponent of regulating Wall Street.
White, an Independent, has had to forge consensus amid sometime robust opposition from the two Republicans on the five-member commission.
Republicans criticized her for what they saw as overreach by the agency that could stifle financial innovation and economic growth.
Some Democrats, meanwhile, accused her of not being tough enough on Wall Street and top executives who may have contributed to the crisis.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the liberal Democratic leader who is a fiery critic of Wall Street, last month called on Obama to replace White over the issue of requiring publicly traded corporations to more fully disclose their political spending.
Under questioning at a Senate hearing, White wouldn’t commit to getting the commission to adopt such a rule. She cited a Republican amendment to a catch-all government spending bill that prohibits the SEC from doing so.
Warren and several other Democratic senators were angered by White’s position and by waffling on the issue by two long-pending Obama nominees to fill vacancies on the SEC. They blocked the nominations of the two candidates, a Democrat and a Republican. As a result, the five-member SEC has been down two since December 2015. The positions will likely be filled by Trump nominees.
In its announcement Monday, the SEC noted a number of rules and policies that White shepherded during her tenure, including regulations under the landmark Dodd-Frank law. Also included were changes to shore up the stability of the money-market fund industry and new protections for mutual fund investors.
The SEC also required financial firms that sell securities backed by mortgages or auto loans, like the kind that fueled the crisis, to give investors details on borrowers’ credit records and income.
“My duty has been to ensure that the (SEC) implemented strong investor and market protections, and to establish an enduring foundation for future progress in the most critical areas,” White said in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the SEC’s staff, we have accomplished both.”
Reflecting criticism from consumer and investor groups, Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen called White “a disappointing chair.”
“For more than three years, she stymied effective regulation from the SEC, slow-walking Dodd-Frank rules,” said Gilbert, who heads the group’s Congress Watch unit.
And now, she added, the Trump administration “likely will nominate someone in her place who is even more skeptical of investor protections.”
White, who was U.S. attorney in Manhattan from 1993 through 2002, compiled an extensive record of prosecuting white-collar crime, won convictions in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 terrorist attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa, and put crime boss John Gotti away. Her 2013 nomination by Obama as the first prosecutor to lead the SEC was taken as a signal in some quarters that he wanted the government to get tougher with Wall Street.
After leaving government, White worked for a decade as a corporate attorney at a New York-based firm, her blue-chip client roster including JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, General Electric and Toyota.
That work prompted tough questioning by some senators at her confirmation hearing in March 2013. White promised that she would avoid potential conflicts of interest caused by her past legal work and that of her husband, who is a corporate attorney. She said her work for large banks and corporations didn’t mean that she had embraced their policies.