February 16, 2014
Talking to Securities Regulators
Posted by Urska Velikonja

One of the more common comments in workshops about corporate and securities papers is whether the author discussed the matter with the SEC, the Department of Justice, etc. Almost uniformly, the author will respond that she has not, either because it never occurred to her or because it seemed like something that would be hard to do.

I have been told in the past to discuss my work with the SEC and corporate insiders, including about a paper that I workshopped at the Fifth Conglomerate Junior Scholars Workshop back in 2010. (Can we bring it back, please?) And I did not heed the advice then. But for my current project on the SEC's fair fund distributions -- about which I will say more in my next posts -- I needed and wanted to talk to someone on the inside, specifically the person leading the SEC's Office of Distributions which oversees distributions of collected monetary sanctions to harmed investors.

The Office of Distributions turns out to be a tiny office that employs 5 attorneys, 4 paralegals and 3 support personnel. It is so small, in fact, that it does not appear on the SEC's organizational charts and the SEC does not feature the Office's leadership on its website, as it does for other units. In other words, it was impossible to find an e-mail or a phone number to call. I used my very limited contacts in the Commission and asked nicely for help. It took some time, but just before Christmas I spoke with the Assistant Director heading the Office of Distributions. It was, by any standard, a remarkably pleasant conversation, and so worthwhile. The Assistant Director explained how the Office works and what it can and cannot do, confirmed many of the things I found through painstaking (and expensive!) database research, and supplied additional information that I would not have known to look for otherwise. I would strongly recommend it.

Next time, when I am at a talk and the presenter responds that s/he did not attempt to discuss the research topic with the agency, department, court, etc., it will be hard not to discount the research and judge the presenter. Because it only takes good manners and a little bit of tenacity, but is definitely worth the effort. Or, explained in terms that we who read this blog understand, the cost-benefit analysis is strongly positive. 

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