U.S. House Financial Service Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Friday that the panel will hold hearings to examine the Securities and Exchange Commission next month, Bloomberg reports. All five SEC commissioners, including Chairman Christopher Cox, will be called to testify.
“There have been concerns that various people have voiced,” Frank told Bloomberg. “There is no point in prejudging, but obviously there are enough questions in the air that we are holding a hearing.”
Specifically, the committee is concerned that the enforcement division is being stripped of its powers and that the SEC will make it more difficult for investors to bring lawsuits against companies.
The hearings come on the heels of an SEC investigation that the Government Accountability Office began in October at the request of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The probe was the result of a flap over an insider-trading charge at hedge fund Pequot Capital Management. A former SEC attorney, Gary Aguirre, suspected Morgan Stanley Chairman John Mack, who had briefly served as chairman of Pequot, had tipped off insiders at the hedge fund that General Electric and Heller Financial were about to merge in 2001. When the SEC’s enforcement division declined to investigate further, Aguirre complained and was fired shortly thereafter; he believed it was over the investigation, but the SEC maintained it was for abrasive and temperamental behavior.
Then, earlier this year, the SEC instituted new rules requiring attorneys with the SEC to obtain authorization from the commissioners before negotiating settlement fines with companies. Critics say that will limit the staff’s ability to set fines.
Then in April, the SEC said it was considering a rule that would allow companies to create bylaws that would require shareholders to settle disputes out of court. Since, then, however, Cox has told Frank that the SEC is likely to drop that rule.