By Matthew Goldstein
If we’ve learned nothing from the financial crisis, it’s that we need smart regulators to be minding the store. And we need someone to make sure the regulators are up to that job and not shirking their responsibilities.
So it was a breath of fresh air when David Kotz assumed the role of inspector general of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2007.
Kotz attacked the job with a welcome aggressiveness and his exhaustive 477-report on the Madoff mess shed some much needed sunshine on the SEC’s fumbling and bumbling of the investigation into the world’s biggest Ponzi scheme. The report prodded regulators to speed up the creation of a new multi-million dollar database for handling tips and complaints from informants–a big failing of the SEC in Madoff.
But now questions are being raised whether Kotz has gone too far in trying to scour out the slackers at the SEC. Reuters reporter Sarah N. Lynch writes today about a number of SEC employees who have filed formal complaints about Kotz and his investigative tactics. Two of the women filing complaints were targeted by Kotz but ultimately cleared of any allegations of wrongdoing or improper behavior.
The complaints bring to light something that people close to the SEC have been whispering for a while–which is that Kotz’s many investigations are promoting a culture of fear within the agency. SEC lawyers who once responded to reporter emails or phones calls–even if politely to simply say ‘no comment’–now don’t even bother. SEC lawyers have told people they are afraid that by doing so, they will be investigated by Kotz for improperly leaking information.