Mutual fund champion on short list for SEC investor advocate

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As the Securities and Exchange Commission considers who will lead a new office giving Main Street investors a bigger megaphone within the agency, the short list is said to include Mercer Bullard, a University of Mississippi law professor and head of a shareholder advocacy group.

“As I may be considered for that position, I would rather not comment on it,” Bullard said in an e-mail response to a query from the Center for Public Integrity. Filling the investor advocate job is on the SEC’s to-do list for December, according to the agency’s lengthy timeline to carry out various parts of the Dodd-Frank law.

Barbara Roper, a financial services expert with the Consumer Federation of America, said in an e-mail that Bullard’s qualifications “would be hard to beat.”

Executive search firm Korn/Ferry International is helping the SEC fill several senior jobs created by the Dodd-Frank law, according to Lori Schock, director of the SEC’s investor education office. She declined to comment on the investor advocate post.

According to Korn/Ferry’s Oct. 22 job posting, the investor advocate will report to SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro, who will appoint the investor advocate in consultation with the other four members of the commission. “The successful candidate must have experience in advocating for the interests of investors in securities and investor protection issues, from the perspective of investors. As such, the Investor Advocate should have experience working with, and understanding the needs of, a broad range of different types of investors,” the job description said.

If Bullard gets the job, it would be his second stint at the SEC. Bullard was assistant chief counsel at the agency before practicing securities law at WilmerHale. Now a law professor, Bullard has testified a dozen times before Congress on mutual fund regulation, insider trading, investor protection, and mutual funds. Bullard founded Fund Democracy, an advocacy group for mutual fund shareholders, and was an expert witness in a case that eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which this year ruled in favor of mutual fund investors.

Bullard also sat on an SEC investment advisory committee that is a precursor to one mandated by the Dodd-Frank law. The new committee is expected to be more powerful and have a bigger platform for change.

Lawmakers insisted on legislating the committee partly in response to the $65 billion Bernie Madoff investment fraud scheme, which was flagged to the SEC's attention several times over the years by a whistleblower. The tips were ignored by SEC employees, in part because of Madoff’s clout on Wall Street.

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