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June 1, 2018

Cops Walking Away from the Wall Street Beat? SEC Enforcement Drops

Signaling a retreat from the more frequent and substantial sanctions imposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the past, a new report shows that enforcement activities by the SEC continued to fall in the first half of Fiscal Year 2018.

According to the report by Cornerstone Research, the SEC filed just 15 new enforcement actions against public companies between October 1 and March 31.  Additionally, these same companies paid far less to settle their cases than they have in the recent past, imposing only $65 million in sanctions.  Compare this track record with 2016, in which the SEC brought 868 enforcement actions with monetary sanctions of $4 billion, far more even on an annualized basis.

Some argue that enforcement statistics don’t tell the whole story.  Recently, for example, SEC Commissioner Hester Pierce , took issue with the SEC’s recent “broken windows” approach to enforcement, in which small infractions were pursued with fervor in an effort to deter and/or prevent larger violations.

But the bottom line is that it isn’t an either/or proposition.  American investors deserve both quantity and quality: an SEC enforcement program that imposes tough sanctions against all wrongdoers, large and small, individual and corporate, with penalties that reflect the nature of the offense, the harm done to investors, and the ill-gotten gains reaped by the violators.  Measured in these terms, SEC appears to be taking the cops off the Wall Street beat, which not only decreases the punishment of lawbreakers but also doesn’t deter others.  That’s the wrong message to send at the wrong time.

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