SEC Nominee White to Tackle Questions on NFL, Banks
Mary Jo White will likely face questions about her work for big Wall Street clients when senators on Tuesday consider her nomination to head the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but one lawmaker wants to huddle about a field of another sort: football.
Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican and big New Orleans Saints fan, plans to ask White about legal work she performed while at Debevoise & Plimpton for the National Football League in the infamous "Bountygate" scandal.
The NFL hired White to review evidence that Saints players were paid bounties from 2009-2011 to injure members of opposing teams. As the allegations unfolded last year,she told reporters the league's basis for issuing disciplinary actions was "quite strong" and based on "multiple, independent,first-hand accounts."
Vitter says that the evidence against the individual players was insubstantial and he is dissatisfied with White's independent review.
"If Mary Jo's work at the SEC is anything close to her botched work for the NFL, folks who want to protect their investments, like the victims of the Stanford Ponzi scheme, are in trouble," said Vitter, who is not expected to block her nomination.
White and Richard Cordray, President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will appear together before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday.
Though it will be White's first public opportunity to discuss her background and views on financial regulation, Cordray has been the more controversial figure as the leader of the CFPB since January 2012, an interim position because Republicans have so far refused to confirm him.
Obama used a procedural maneuver known as a "recess appointment" to install him temporarily, and here-nominated Cordray in January.
Under his tenure, the CFPB has worked on an overhaul of mortgage regulations. It has also taken on debt collectors and brought several enforcement actions related to credit-card add-on products.
Business leaders have been largely satisfied with Cordray's leadership, and Republicans generally do not have problems with him personally. But they have vowed to block any director until Democrats agree to convert the bureau into a bipartisan commission and change how it is funded.
Adding to the controversy, a U.S. appeals court ruled earlier this year that recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board made at the same time Cordray was installed were unconstitutional because lawmakers were not technically in recess.
That ruling has raised questions about Cordray's appointment as well, and he is expected to field questions from senators on Tuesday about the work he has done and whether it could be invalidated by the courts.
"We want people to know they now have a new agency standing on their side, looking out for their interests, to help restore their confidence in the consumer financial marketplace. So far, even though our work is still in its early stages, we have been busy addressing some of the most critical problems,"said Cordray in prepared testimony.
White's View on Policy Unknown
While Cordray's appointment is more controversial, White is still expected to face numerous questions from lawmakers. Little is known yet about her views on securities regulatory policy.
She previously served as U.S.Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 through 2002,where she made a name for herself prosecuting terrorists and mob bosses.
If confirmed, White would be joining the SEC at a busy time. Currently divided between two Democrats and two Republicans, the agency is struggling to agree on rules required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law for over-the-counter derivatives and credit-rating agencies.
Also, the SEC is grappling with how to complete controversial new capital-raising rules stemming from the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, a proposal to reform the $2.6 trillion money market fund industry, and rules to potentially revamp U.S. equities market structure.
Without a fifth crucial swing vote, relatively little rule making has taken place since SEC Commissioner Elisse Walter took over as chairman in December.
Internal disagreements between Democratic and Republican commissioners last week about relatively non-controversial rules to protect the market from technology errors nearly derailed plans for an open public vote, according to people familiar with the matter.
White could face questions from senators about her views on everything from high-speed trading and the risk of runs on money funds to over-the-counter derivative regulations. In prepared testimony, she did not give her opinions in detail,but did say she saw a "sense of urgency" in examining market structure matters such as high-speed trading.
In addition, she may be asked how she will manage conflicts that could arise from the legal defense work she did for Debevoise & Plimpton on behalf of high-powered Wall Street clients, from JPMorgan and former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis to UBS to accounting giant Deloitte & Touche.
Federal ethics rules generally require her to recuse herself for one year from participating in matters involving former clients.
While she worked for some clients such as JPMorgan more recently, others such as Deloitte were retained roughly two calendar years ago and will not fall into the recusal period, according to one person familiar with White's work at Deloitte.
Still, White could face questions, including from some Democrats, about this work for big banking clients and the so-called "revolving door" between Wall Street and regulatory agencies.