The SEC and the Financial Industry: Evidence from Enforcement against Broker-Dealers, 67 Bus. Law. 679 (2012)
The Securities and Exchange Commission plays a central part in the U.S. regulatory framework for the supervision of the _financial industry. How has the SEC carried out this mission? Despite recurrent crises, systematic studies of SEC performance data are surprisingly scarce. As the SEC reforms itself to address the shortcomings revealed in 2007-2008, a systematic examination of the agency's past record can help identify priorities and evaluate the agency's renewed efforts. This study takes a first step in studying empirically SEC enforcement against investment banks and brokerage houses, examining the agency's record in the period right before the 2007-2008 crisis. This data suggests that defendants associated with big.firms fared better in SEC enforcement actions as compared to defendants associated with smaller firms in three important dimensions. First, SEC actions against big.firms were more likely to involve corporate liability exclusively, with no individuals subject to any regulatory action. Second, big-firm defendants were more likely to end up in administrative rather than court proceedings, controlling for types of violation and levels of harm to investors. Third, within administrative proceedings, big-firm employees were likely to receive lower sanctions, notably temporary or permanent bars from the industry. These patterns have important implications for major debates concerning corporate liability, regulatory capture, and the public and private enforcement of securities laws.