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November 27, 2012
SEC Chairman Schapiro to Step Down
    by Robert Kropp

As Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission since early 2009, Mary Schapiro dealt with the aftermath of the financial crisis and the implementation of new regulations mandated by Dodd-Frank.

Mary Schapiro, the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), announced that she will be stepping down next month from the post she has held since being appointed by President Obama in January, 2009. She will be replaced by Elisse Walter, currently an SEC commissioner.

Schapiro became Chairman of the Commission at a time when the national economy was still convulsed by the financial crisis. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law in 2010, mandated that the SEC engage "in one of the busiest rulemaking periods in decades," the Commission noted in a press release announcing Schapiro's departure.

The Commission found many allies in the sustainable investment community for regulations addressing shareowner votes on executive compensation packages, payments made by companies in the extractive industries, and disclosure by US corporations on the presence in their products of conflict minerals smuggled out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by armed groups.

Guidance on climate change disclosure, issued by the Commission in 2010, was hailed by Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, as "perhaps the biggest development so far in the long-term campaign to promote wider sustainability reporting."

Yet, Schapiro's term was also marked by well-funded efforts by industry trade groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce to undermine implementation of many regulations through the filing of lawsuits. The US Court of Appeals in Washington DC sided with the Chamber in 2011 when it overturned an important proxy access rule that would have allowed shareowners who have owned at least three percent of a company for at least three years to have their nominees for boards of directors included in corporate proxy materials.

Earlier this month, however, the SEC refused the request of the Chamber and other trade groups to delay implementation of the rule governing payments to governments. The groups wanted the rules delayed until a lawsuit they filed was heard by the courts.

"Over the past four years we have brought a record number of enforcement actions, engaged in one of the busiest rulemaking periods, and gained greater authority from Congress to better fulfill our mission," Schapiro said.

Until President Obama appoints a fifth commissioner, deliberations at the SEC could well be marked by political deadlock. Sustainable investors and other governance advocates have asked the Commission to investigate whether Chevron has violated securities laws by failing to report to shareowners the materiality of a $19 billion judgment against it for environmental crimes in Ecuador. In the aftermath of Citizens United, investors have also called on the SEC to regulate corporate political spending.


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