The Securities and Exchange Commission could become one of the surprises this year in Washington by playing against type in a town known for dysfunction.
Despite its 2-2 split, the SEC may be able to finish some work during the chairmanship of Elisse Walter. Ms. Walter, who was elevated from her position as a commissioner when former Chairman Mary Schapiro departed last month.
Although it is unclear how long Ms. Walters' tenure will last — President Barack Obama last week announced his intention to nominate former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White as SEC chairman — Ms. Walters has indicated that she intends to promote consensus on issues that were stalled last year.
“I'm ... on something of a listening tour, clarifying my own thoughts and keeping an appropriate perspective by listening to ideas, questions and complaints from people in and out of the agency,” Ms. Walter said at the Jan. 18 meeting of the Investor Advisory Committee.
STRUCK A CHORD
Since Ms. White's Senate confirmation process could take several weeks or even a couple of months, Ms. Walter has some time to put together an agenda based on views shared by the commissioners.
That approach strikes a chord with one of the two Republican commissioners, Daniel Gallagher.
After a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week, he told reporters that Ms. Walter is casting a wide net to get feedback while putting together an SEC agenda.
“She's been tremendous on outreach, getting all our input. She's very consensus-oriented,” Mr. Gallagher said.
“I do think it's going to be a productive year. The personalities are right.” .
In her address to the Investor Advisory Committee, Ms. Walter said that forecasts of gridlock are overblown.
“And despite the often-mentioned 2-2 divide, I find that my fellow commissioners — as well as commission staff — are eager to find common ground and move forward in a practical and effective manner,” she said.
There are two areas where Ms. Walter may be able to cobble together consensus, even if she is in office for just a short time. One is on a provision of the JOBS Act that would allow private offerings to be advertised to the public.
Ms. Walter profusely thanked the Investor Advisory Committee for its recommendations to add more investor protection to the proposed rule, noting that they were unanimously approved.
But she also said that the SEC will promulgate a rule and respond to the will of Congress, which approved the measure unanimously.
That sentiment, no doubt, appeals to Mr. Gallagher and Capitol Hill Republicans, who have been prodding the SEC to move faster on the matter.
The other area where progress is likely is money market fund reform.
Ms. Walter supported Ms. Schapiro's effort to impose more-stringent rules on the investment vehicles. Last summer, Ms. Schapiro failed to achieve a majority and the proposal never came to an SEC vote.
But now, after intervention by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, it looks as if reform has new life.
In his appearance, Mr. Gallagher said that he hopes that the SEC will offer a new proposal “soon.”
He also reiterated that he has an open mind about requiring the funds to have a floating net asset value.
“That would be a great avenue to explore,” Mr. Gallagher said. “There are pretty significant tax and accounting issues that need to be addressed that haven't been addressed.”
Like any work that the SEC does, the money fund proposal will require a lot of work. Of course, a until Ms. White is confirmed, Ms. Walter must get at least one of the two Republicans to vote with her to avoid a deadlock.
Still, for now, it looks as if the Walter Era, no matter how long it lasts, may be more peaceful and productive than anticipated.
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