As I mentioned in the last blog in this series on ESG, back in September 2019, when I first wrote about environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters (see HERE), and through summer 2020 when the SEC led by Chair Jay Clayton was issuing warnings about making ESG metric induced investment decisions, I was certain ESG would remain outside the SEC’s regulatory focus.
Enter Chair Allison Herron Lee and in a slew of activity over the past few months, the SEC appointed a senior policy advisor for climate and ESG; the SEC Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp Fin”) announced it will scrutinize climate change disclosures; the SEC has formed an enforcement task force focused on climate and ESG issues; the Division of Examinations’ 2021 examination priorities included an introduction about how this year’s priorities have an “enhanced focus” on climate and ESG-related risks; almost every fund and major institutional investor has published statements on ESG initiatives; a Chief Sustainability
No more broken windows! In a series of speeches by various top brass at the SEC followed by the publication of the SEC Enforcement Division 2017 Report on results and priorities, the SEC has confirmed both directly and through its actions that the era of “broken windows” enforcement is over. The broken windows policy was first shepherded by Mary Jo White in 2013 and was one in which the SEC committed to pursue infractions big and small and to investigate, review and monitor all activities. The idea was that small infractions lead to bigger infractions, and the securities markets have had the reputation that minor violations are overlooked, creating a culture where laws were treated as meaningless guidelines.
Michael Piwowar has been a critic of broken windows since its inception. In a speech to the Securities Enforcement Forum in 2014, Mr. Piwowar stated, “[I]f every rule is a priority, then no rule is a priority.” He continued, “[I]f you