Neil Barofsky: A dream SEC chief
With a record of challenging Wall Street, Neil Barofsky says he’d take it “in a heartbeat.” Here’s what he’d do
On Dec. 14, Mary Schapiro will step down from her role as the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Barack Obama will shortly appoint a new leader to take her place, a leader who has a big task in rebuilding the credibility of an agency tasked with protecting the capital markets from fraud and ensuring transparency in the markets. I’ve asked Neil Barofsky, whose name has been floated by Simon Johnson in the New York Times as a possible chairman for the agency, what he would do to reform the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The stakes are high. In the 1930s, the SEC cleaned up a stock market that had gone out of control, rigged by insiders and ultimately wrecking the economy. During this most recent financial crisis, the SEC operated as Barofsky put it, as a “backwater.” SEC Chairman Chris Cox was known as a passive regulator who did not understand the markets. Whistle-blower Harry Markopoulos later embarrassed the SEC by revealing he had tried to tell them about Bernie Madoff’s $20 billion-plus fraud for eight years, to no avail. Obama appointee Mary Schapiro has done marginally better, but the SEC has still been battered in the courts and in Congress. And Schapiro recently lost a high-profile fight to regulate money market funds, which were a key part of the highly vulnerable shadow banking system.