Trump Administration Should Avoid Gutting SEC’s Remarkably Successful Whistleblower Reward Program
Press reports indicate that a repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act is among the top policy priorities of the Trump Administration. Though there are provisions in Dodd-Frank that may warrant reexamination, one aspect of the law that should not be repealed is the whistleblower-reward program, which has been very successful. Just this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced an award of more than $20 million to a whistleblower who promptly came forward with valuable information that enabled the SEC to halt ongoing fraud and prevent investors from losing millions of dollars. This award is one of many examples of corporate insiders significantly enhancing the SEC’s performance of its core mission: protecting investors.
Nearly 4 years after the SEC Whistleblower Program announced its first award, in 2012, it appears that the program is now firing on all cylinders. In 2016 alone, the program has issued more than $75 million in awards to whistleblowers, which is more than the agency awarded in all the previous years of the program combined. These whistleblowers have helped the SEC to identify fraud that may have otherwise gone undetected. In addition, these whistleblowers have provided strong evidence that has enabled the SEC to advance investigations while conserving time and resources.
As SEC Chair Mary Jo White noted in her speech titled “The SEC as the Whistleblower’s Advocate,” the SEC “continue[s] to receive higher quality tips that are of tremendous help to the Commission in stopping ongoing and imminent fraud, and lead to significant enforcement actions on a much faster timetable than we would be able to achieve without the information and assistance from the whistleblower.” Indeed, the whistleblower program created by the Dodd-Frank Act has enabled the SEC to recover $500 million in financial remedies. All signs indicate that the program will further increase recoveries in the coming years.
The agency has received an increase in tips each year since 2012. In 2015 alone, the agency received 3,923 tips from whistleblowers. According to a speech by SEC Enforcement Division Director Andrew Ceresney, the agency is on target to exceed that number this year. These tips derive from every state in the United States and over 95 foreign countries. This coverage is necessary to halt fraud in a now-global economy.
In fact, the largest whistleblower award to date—$30 million—was issued to a foreign whistleblower who provided the SEC with information about ongoing fraud that the agency admitted “would have been very difficult to detect” otherwise. The SEC Whistleblower Program has issued a total of 8 awards to whistleblowers living in foreign countries.
The increase in whistleblower tips has brought higher-quality information, which has assisted the SEC in uncovering the biggest frauds. In 2016, the SEC Whistleblower Program has issued 7 of the top 10 whistleblower awards in the program’s history. These tips alone have allowed the SEC to protect investors from losing hundreds of millions of dollars.
President-elect Trump has promised to combat corruption. To achieve that end, the new Administration should strengthen, not gut, the SEC’s whistleblower program. Or as the adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”