October 14, 2014 / 2:01 PM / 5 years ago

SEC's Piwowar takes a swing at 'broken windows' enforcement policy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission official said on Tuesday the agency’s the “broken windows” enforcement strategy, of pursuing violations big or small, hinders its ability to set priorities and maintain robust, healthy markets.

A sign for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is pictured in the foyer of the Fort Worth Regional Office in Fort Worth, Texas June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Stone

In a speech at the annual Securities Enforcement Forum, SEC Republican Commissioner Mike Piwowar took aim at SEC Chair Mary Jo White’s approach, based on the theory used by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani that fixing broken windows and minor violations helps to deter serious crimes.

“A broken windows approach to enforcement may not achieve the desired result,” said Piwowar. “If every rule is a priority, then no rule is a priority.”

White, an independent appointed by President Barack Obama, unveiled her plans to apply the “broken windows” theory to the SEC’s enforcement program in a speech at the same conference last year.

In that speech, she said it was important to go after the more minor violations, because small ones “can feed bigger ones.”

But Piwowar said this idea was flawed because the “ultimate” goal of regulation is to achieve resilient markets, not regulatory compliance.

“If you create an environment in which regulatory compliance is the most important objective for market participants, then we will have lost sight of the underlying purpose for having regulation in the first place,” Piwowar said.

He described the SEC’s mission as protecting investors; maintaining fair, orderly, and efficient trading markets; and facilitating capital formation.

Andrew Ceresney, the SEC’s enforcement director, later defended the “broken windows” approach on a panel at the same conference.

“It is not about turning every violation into an enforcement action,” he said.

“What it is about is targeting ... rules (where) we have seen a pattern of a lack of compliance and bringing a number of cases to send a strong message.”

He also cited several examples of recent enforcement sweeps that he said have been successful. One involved a wave of cases brought against firms for short sale violations. The other involved a slew of cases against corporate insiders for failing to file accurate and timely reports about transactions and holdings.

Both of these types of violations are considered to be more minor compared with others, as they do not require intent and firms or individuals can be charged even if they inadvertently violated the rules.

In each of these cases, Ceresney said compliance has since increased “tremendously.”

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Richard Chang

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