John Light writes: The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a government accountability watchdog group, published a report this week on the so-called “revolving door” at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Authored by POGO Investigator Michael Smallberg, the report highlights numerous examples of how the back and forth of SEC regulators between jobs in Washington and on Wall Street blunts the agency’s effectiveness.
Smallberg includes recommendations for how the SEC and other parts of the government could take action to limit the negative effects of the revolving door. We spoke with Smallberg about his report and the corrosive effect of what he calls “regulatory capture” — what happens when an agency is “captured” by the industry it regulates.
John Light: Why is the revolving door a potential problem for regulatory bodies in general, and specifically for the SEC?
Michael Smallberg: When you have so many people going back and forth from a regulatory agency to the regulated industry, it can shape the mindset of people throughout the agency and make them more sympathetic to the viewpoints of industry groups, sometimes at the expense of people with a stake in the agency’s mission, like consumers, investors or shareholders. In some cases, people who used to work at the agency have connections to people who are still there. They can take advantage of that access to obtain favors for their clients, who, in many cases tend to be large institutions that have the resources to hire these alumni.
The revolving door creates a risk of what we call “regulatory capture” — when companies are able to sway the policies of the agency in their favor. Many of these agencies are supposed to be independent regulatory agencies — independent not only from political pressure that might be applied by Congress, but also from large industry groups. The revolving door between a regulator and a regulated industry creates at least a heightened danger of regulatory capture.
Then there’s a question of optics: The appearance that a regulatory agency is cozying up to the companies it’s supposed to regulate can undermine the public’s confidence in the regulatory system, which in turn can make the regulatory agencies less effective. And on another level, the revolving door can devalue the notion of public service. When you have so many people who are looking at their government position as a stepping stone to going into the private sector and making much larger salaries working for the big companies, we worry that will demoralize other civil servants who are looking at their government service as more of a life calling.
Light: Your report looks not just at the records of SEC commissioners, but of hundreds of lower-level employees who went on to represent employers and clients before the commission within two years of leaving. How can these low-level SEC employees influence regulation after they leave the organization?
Keep reading: Behind the SEC’s Revolving Door | Q&A | BillMoyers.com.
Philip R. Davis is a founder of Phil's Stock World (www.philstockworld.com), a stock and options trading site that teaches the art of options trading to newcomers and devises advanced strategies for expert traders. Mr. Davis is a serial entrepreneur, having founded software company Accu-Title, a real estate title insurance software solution, and is also the President of the Delphi Consulting Corp., an M&A consulting firm that helps large and small companies obtain funding and close deals. He was also the founder of Accu-Search, a property data corporation that was sold to DataTrace in 2004 and Personality Plus, a precursor to eHarmony.com. Phil was a former editor of a UMass/Amherst humor magazine and it shows in his writing -- which is filled with colorful commentary along with very specific ideas on stock option purchases (Phil rarely holds actual stocks). Visit: Phil's Stock World (www.philstockworld.com)
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