Dodd Defends Financial Reform Law and Whistleblowers

Former Senator Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., told attendees at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners conference that the financial reform law is essential, even though he wishes his name were not attached to it.

During a speech Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., at the ACFE’s annual conference, he commended the group for coming out publicly in favor of the whistleblower provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, noting that it was one of the few organizations that did. He also stood up for the necessity of the law, which financial industry lobbyists have been trying to weaken ever since its formative stages. Now with many Republican lawmakers vowing to repeal the law, Dodd defended it, while admitting it did not go far enough as he needed every single vote to get it passed.

“I am very well aware that some critics believe the financial reform effort is doing more harm than good,” he said. “In my view they could not be more wrong.”

In an interview after the speech with Accounting Today, Dodd acknowledged that he would still like to see reforms in areas such as credit rating agencies, the housing finance system, the Federal Reserve’s supervisory function, and the bankruptcy process for financial institutions (see Dodd’s Wish List for Financial Reform).

During his speech he explained why they should not turn back the clock on the law as he reviewed the events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, including the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers amid the failure of the mortgage-backed securities market. In response, Congress passed economic stabilization legislation and the financial reform law that he and former House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., shepherded through Congress in 2010.

Dodd retired from the Senate later that year after three decades, with the last four years leading the Senate Banking Committee. He is now chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Dodd insisted that every single provision of the Dodd-Frank Act was fully debated in the Senate before the bill finally managed to pass amid many compromises.

However, he regretted that the bill ultimately received few Republican votes. “I wish the final vote on this bill had passed with more bipartisan support,” he said. “In my 30 years in the Congress and the United States Senate, rarely if ever did I introduce a piece of legislation without a Republican co-sponsor. Today watching the Congress is a sad sight indeed. They can’t seem to agree on what day of the week it is, let alone matters of more significant importance.”

He noted that the final bill contained proposals and ideas from nearly every member of the Senate Banking Committee and many who were not on the committee. He credited the bill with ending “too big to fail” financial institutions, increasing transparency and accountability in the financial markets, establishing an early warning system to contain unsafe products and practices, encouraging people who see wrongdoing to step forward and creating an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“It took hundreds and hundreds of hours and hard work to strike that right balance,” said Dodd. “But I firmly believe that we succeeded. Some have said that we went too far and others have said we didn’t go far enough. I was charged with the responsibility of writing a reform package bill with the cooperation of 60 percent of the United States Senate and 50 percent of the House of Representatives, the White House, the Treasury, regulators, stakeholders and many, many others. And when I listen to the critics who could not organize a two-car funeral who say we didn’t go far enough, or call for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank legislation, I can only wonder on what planet those people have been living for the last six years.”

Asked about why the bill often gets disparaged for its whistleblower provisions, among other things, Dodd admitted that he was reluctant to have his name on it. “I don’t like having a name on a bill,” he responded. “I don’t know why it is in the financial area, but whether it’s Glass-Steagall, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, or Sarbanes-Oxley, everybody seems to feel this is one area of the law where you have to have people’s names on it. I think it’s a good bill. It’s not that I don’t want to have my name associated with it. I just think it personalizes these matters in a manner I’m not enamored of. As a co-author of the legislation, I’ve tried to point out that there were many people involved in the writing of this legislation, far more than two people.”

Asked about whether he was disappointed that a number of the regulations called for in the law still have not been written or implemented, Dodd emphasized the need for patience. “Obviously you’d like to get it done as soon as you can,” he said. “But it’s far more important to get it done right than to jam something through quickly here in order to beat the clock, rather than thinking it through to make sure we’re actually coming out with the right result given the information we have available to us.”

He noted that it has been less than two years since the almost 900-page bill has been signed into law, while the lobbying has continued. “You have hundreds of people lining up, arguing against the adoption of certain regulations in certain areas, not because they think it needs more thought, but to take advantage of every opportunity to slow up this process in the hope that we will get to a political environment when you might undo the package entirely,” he said.

He is proud of the whistleblower provisions in the law, and the ACFE’s support for it. “Contrary to the predictions of those who opposed these provisions of the bill, these tips are yielding significant benefits in developing enforcement cases,” said Dodd. “The program reduces the resources needed to bring successful enforcement cases.” He noted that SEC chair Mary Schapiro has said the SEC has not been inundated with frivolous claims since the establishment of a whistleblower office, and the SEC has been seeing an uptick in higher-quality submissions, including violations that would have been difficult to detect without whistleblowers bringing them to light.

“Thank you to this organization—one of the few, I might add, in the country, for standing up for the importance of that section of the Dodd-Frank legislation—and I personally thank this association for your efforts in that regard,” said Dodd.

However, he is concerned that the whistleblower provisions will no longer be funded after the money appropriated for it runs out. “That money is not going to last long, and when that money is no longer available, mark my words, as I stand before you, on June 19 of 2012, the whistleblower sections of this bill will die because the funding is not going to be here in order to continue the practice that has been provided for by this section of the bill and has now been established by rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission. It’s happened at the Federal Trade Commission, it’s happened at the various other agencies over the years. Those who don’t like regulations, those who don’t like the law, will basically starve it of funding in order for them to do their job.”

Asked about the deterrent effects of white collar criminal prosecutions, Dodd said the prison sentences appeared to be getting longer, while in the past the penalties were almost nonexistent. But despite the risks, many companies still push the envelope.

“The risk managers get rewarded, as we saw recently in the case of JPMorgan, where the whales of the world seem to get more to celebrate than those at the company who are cautioning a more prudent course of action,” said Dodd. “All the contrition afterwards, it’s nice to hear. You’d like to believe that somebody might have had a policy. I don’t buy the notion that I don’t manage day-to-day activities and therefore I’m not responsible. Leaders create environments. You create a mood, if you will, or a sense of permissiveness by which you insist your institution engage. While you may not be involved in the individual decisions, you create those climates and those environments where activities like this can occur. It doesn’t suggest it won’t occur even if you do your best to insist that the way we do things is in this case different than what our competitors do, and maybe things will happen. But I think there is a danger where you get up in the morning and you show up, and there is an expectation that you’re going to press against that envelope as far as you can in order to produce that bottom-line quarterly profit. Then I guarantee you you’re going to have the problems we’re seeing emerge.”

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