There's been some commentary that the timing of the SEC's suit against Goldman Sachs seems suspicious. For example, Politico reports that:
Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight committee, is demanding a slew of documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission, asserting that the timing of civil charges against Goldman Sachs raises “serious questions about the commission’s independence and impartiality.” ... Issa implied that the timing was a bit too convenient, saying President Barack Obama’s push on Wall Street reform “neatly coincided with the commission’s announcement of the suit.”
I agree that there's reason to be concerned about the timing of the suit, but I suspect the suit's not about helping Obama's Wall Street legislation. Instead, I suspect the WSJ got it right:
Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC's inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency's failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. He has pleaded not guilty.
Guess which of these two stories was pushed to the back pages? The SEC did its part by publishing the Stanford report so deep in its Web site that more than a few of our readers had trouble finding it. Yesterday, the SEC management's response to the report was available on the agency's homepage, yet it provided no links to the report itself.
Little wonder. The report is damning for an SEC that wants the public to believe it has turned the corner after the Bernie Madoff disaster. The commission has made young Fabrice Tourre of Goldman Sachs a household name for his debatable disclosures to institutional investors. But many individual investors will be more interested in learning the story of Spencer Barasch. He's the SEC enforcement official who sat on various referrals to investigate Allen Stanford and then, after leaving the SEC, performed legal work for . . . Allen Stanford.
In its own way, the Stanford calamity is arguably worse than the SEC's Madoff bungle. In the Madoff case, passionate outsider Harry Markopolos could find no one at the SEC who took the time to understand the scam, cared enough and had enough authority to shut down the fraud. In the Stanford case, we see numerous SEC insiders over many years urging—at times begging—the enforcement staff to take action, to no avail.
Either way, it ain't a pretty picture.