To be blunt, this year’s “SEC Speaks” conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Practicing Law Institute, was perhaps most remarkable for what did not happen: Mary Jo White, who is widely expected to be easily confirmed as Chairman of the Commission, did not attend. This was, of course, proper and to be expected, but it nevertheless cast a shadow over the proceedings, since none of the speakers could speak definitively to Ms. White’s and her new team’s regulatory and enforcement priorities. Indeed, given that three of the four SEC division directors who spoke—including the director of the Enforcement Division—are acting directors who may be replaced, it was not surprising that none set out bold or groundbreaking initiatives. Instead, with some important exceptions, this year’s conference largely updated issues that had been covered in 2012.
This is not to say that the conference failed to provide useful information. All four of the sitting commissioners emphasized different issues. Elisse Walter, the current Chairman, emphasized the SEC’s role in developing fair and transparent markets and promoting entrepreneurship, capital growth, and job-building. Luis Aguilar discussed signs of “weakness and instability” in the market’s infrastructure and recommended that the SEC regulate and address these technological issues by, among other things, developing a “kill switch” for each exchange. Troy Paredes (who is expected to leave the Commission this summer) argued that “too much disclosure may actually obscure useful information and result in worse decision-making by investors,” and called for a “top-to-bottom review” of the current disclosure regime. Finally, Daniel Gallagher emphasized the importance of maintaining the SEC’s independence, and strongly questioned whether new legislative mandates (particularly those contained in the Dodd-Frank legislation) and the Financial Stability Oversight Council compromised that independence and minimized the SEC’s effectiveness. Whether the initiatives proposed by Commissioners Aguilar and Paredes come to fruition under Ms. White’s leadership remains to be seen.