4 Things Kleiner Perkins Doesn’t Want Jury to Hear in Ellen Pao’s Sex Bias Case

Oral arguments are expected to begin Tuesday in the sex discrimination case against the powerful Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Ellen Pao, who sued Kleiner nearly three years ago, accused the firm of gender discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation. I wrote about her case in my column for TheStreet last week.

Pao, who is interim CEO of the micro-blogging site Reddit, says that after she complained of discrimination at Kleiner, she went from being a star among junior partners to an employee viewed as a whiner who had “issues and clashes” with colleagues. She says one coworker badgered her into having an affair, and that a partner at the firm gave her a copy of a book of poetry with sexual imagery.

Kleiner has asked the judge to clear the courtroom when there’s evidence being presented about its proprietary business information and financial performance, among other things. Even if it wins on that motion, there are sure to be plenty of fireworks that remain for public consumption.

When Pao filed her suit in 2012, I noted this about the sad history of women in the workplace a column for Bloomberg View:

Twelve of Kleiner’s 49 partners are women, and in the venture-capital business, that’s considered very, very good. How is it that 20 years after Anita Hill broke the silence about gender discrimination and harassment at work, there are still companies that can take a bow for being gender-equality heroes when 75 percent of their leaders are men?

You can read the Bloomberg column here. The more recent column for the Street is here.

Sabew Commentary Award

Today, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers said that I won the “Best in Business” award for commentary in the news agency category for columns I wrote in 2013 for Bloomberg View.

Here’s a list of all the winners, including writers worth following on a regular basis, such as Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica and Michael Smallberg of The Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

If you’re looking for smart and talented financial journalists worth adding to your regular reading list, take a few minutes to go through the roster of Sabew winners.

Notes from the judges on my submission:

NEWS AGENCIES COMMENTARY

Winner: Susan Antilla, Bloomberg View, for her columns.

Terrific topics. Tough, engaging, enlightening, head-snapping. Well-reasoned arguments. Writes with authority and insight in a simple, declarative style that doesnt wander. No navel-gazing. Sophisticated humor used lightly in a way that advances the argument. Not humor for humors sake.

Here are links to the stories the judges considered:

Do Deutsche Bank’s ‘Prettier’ Women Get the Best?

JP Morgan’s Teflon CEO Glides Past Reputation Hits

Hate Follows When the Police Try to Do Their Job

Top Stock Picks of 2013 Lose Out to Honey Boo-Boo

McKinsey Clients Shrugged at Scandals, Ignored Greed

McKinsey & Co. is the global fix-it firm of choice, whether you’re a company looking for an outsider to justify laying off thousands of employees or a government looking to get its managerial act together. A new book by Duff McDonald, a contributing editor at Fortune and The New York Observer, provides a good history of the firm but can’t seem to decide whether McKinsey is a valuable advisor or a waste of money.

I reviewed “The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business,” for Bloomberg Muse today. You can read it here.

When markets come undone from crisis fraud, regulators investigate something else

The public was pretty peeved about the financial crisis in 2008, and regulators felt the pressure to produce a few scalps in response. So what did the regulators do? They investigated something that had nothing to do with the crisis.

I reviewed Charles Gasparino’s new book “Circle of Friends: The Massive Federal Crackdown on Insider Trading — And Why the Markets Always Work Against the Little Guy” for Bloomberg Muse this week.

Gasparino tells the story of the all-out war on insider trading that began in 2008, and he questions the regulators’ priorities in pursuing inside traders when there were people who’d just about brought down the economy roaming free.

The book has some problems, but Gasparino is right that our regulators are chasing all the wrong people. Here’s the review.

Amaranth hit death spiral as sycophants, fools cavorted

The Greenwich, Connecticut hedge fund Amaranth Advisors LLC collapsed in September 2006 after losing more than $6 billion in the natural-gas futures market. I reviewed the new book about the debacle, “Hedge Hogs: The Cowboy Traders Behind Wall Street’s Largest Hedge Fund Disaster,” for Bloomberg Muse today. You can read it here.

How banks keep the lid on sex discrimination cases (and thus avoid having to change)

In my Bloomberg View column earlier this week, I wrote about the disconnect between image and reality when it comes to Deutsche Bank’s record on diversity. The Frankfurt-based global bank wins all those warm-and-fuzzy prizes for “Best Company” for working mothers, for example, but is the target of lawsuits brought by women who say are treated with nasty little barbs at work such as “Maybe I should get pregnant so I can work from home.”

Those same women say they endured more than Neanderthal-style comments from the guys: They say lost their jobs when they became mothers, too. Deutsche Bank dodged a bullet big-time when two women who were considering a class-action pregnancy discrimination suit settled with the bank earlier this year. In a court filing, the bank denied one of the pregnancy claims against it, and its spokeswoman Michele Allison declined to comment on the others.

Discrimination against women on Wall Street is a persistent problem that hasn’t been fixed despite an assortment of programs that purport to address it. Deutsche Bank, in fact, takes a deep bow for its programs around the world for women in finance. The bank says that 5,000 women from Deutsche and other firms attended their conferences for women last year alone.

Despite all the woman programs, diversity training and new “heads of diversity” jobs at financial firms, the lawsuits and internal investigations around gender discrimination just keep on coming.

Deutsche Bank is far from the only problematic bank out there — they all are. But  it does have some history that illustrates how hard financial firms work to keep the public from knowing how bad things are for their female employees. In a splashy lawsuit filed more than a decade ago, Virginia Gambale, a partner in Deutsche Bank’s Capital partners unit, said she was passed over for a promotion because of gender discrimination and that the bank’s work environment was hostile to women. She would wind up with a “multi-million dollar settlement,” according to a transcript of a court conference in her case.

Gambale’s lawsuit described a September 1999 business meeting she was required to attend in Cannes, France where approximately 100 men and 5 women had to walk past “a welcoming committee of ‘sex goddesses’ who were wearing revealing clothing that was highly inappropriate for a business meeting.” The complaint said that entertainment at the meeting included “a scantily clad Marilyn Monroe look-alike, who publicly fondled several male executives.”

The most interesting part of her lawsuit, though, were the lengths Deutsche Bank went to to avoid having information about the gender breakdown of salary and promotion at the bank become public. In an August 2, 2004 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the second circuit, Judge Robert D. Sack described some of the history around efforts by the bank to lock up documents.

During discovery, Deutsche Bank had produced compensation planning charts “and four pages of an internal Bank study of diversity at the Bank, which contained information about the gender composition of the Bank’s employees,” Sack wrote. The judge added that the bank had said the settlement was “motivated significantly by its desire to avoid public disclosure at trial of the temporarily sealed documents.”

Sack wrote that Harold Baer, the district judge in the case had “wondered aloud why the public should not know about discrimination at a major banking institution.” Baer told the bank that he’d disclose the contents of the settlement agreement unless Deutsche Bank agreed to hire a third party to do a global gender review and provide the results to the court. No way, said the bank, cooking up a stipulation of dismissal with Gambale to get the case out of Baer’s jurisdiction.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to a number of women who’ve taken settlements after years of emotional and expensive litigation. They get worn out, and often wind up feeling guilty that they didn’t fight to the bitter end in court so that the ugly details of gender differences in pay and promotion would be exposed. Those who can’t sue in court because of mandatory arbitration agreements don’t even get satisfaction when they win: Men who lose a discrimination or harassment case do not have to reveal that in their public “BrokerCheck” records. Is there any wonder the problems go on and on?

What we really need is a system that forces employers to report how many internal complaints they’re getting that allege discrimination, and how much men and women are being paid for doing similar jobs. We’ve got an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after all, and it’s time that agency’s mandate was expanded to demand those statistics. The way things work now, there are too many ways for banks and brokers to keep evidence of their discrimination under lock and key.

A bit of welcome news in all this: It turns out that six years after Gambale’s 2003 settlement, some of those Deutsche Bank documents were unsealed. They are not available electronically, but I’ve put in a request with a document service to get them. Look for another post when I’ve got them in hand.

Do Deutsche Bank’s ‘Prettier’ Women Get the Best?

Most big-name financial firms pay lip service to diversity, peppering their websites with smiling women and people of color who are in short supply in the mostly white-male trading rooms and executive offices of real life.

Amid the spin, though, there’s one bank that wins plaudits around the globe for its gender programs.

At Deutsche Bank AG, business conferences and seminars for women attracted 5,000 of the company’s employees and clients last year, according to the bank’s website. It has scored a spot on Working Mother magazine’s “100 Best Companies” list 13 times since 1996, and was named “Best in Financial Services Sector” by the U.K. charity Working Families, which does research on work-life issues.

Eileen Taylor, Deutsche Bank’s global head of diversity, said in an e-mailed statement that a program called Atlas, started in 2009, has helped push 50 percent of the women who have used it into broader roles.

So you have to wonder why the Frankfurt-based bank is spending so much of its time fending off lawsuits that accuse it of harassment, retaliation, gender bias and discrimination against pregnant women.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 28 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Yosefa Shliselberg, a director in the global transaction banking group and 10-year Deutsche Bank veteran, said she was called into human resources one afternoon in 2011 and told, “The business has decided to exit you.” She says it happened two months after she complained to HR about gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

Performance Reviews

Shliselberg, whose performance evaluations cited her “remarkable analytic skills” and “deep understanding” of the bank’s products, told me during an interview last month at her lawyer’s office in New York that the bank had opened an investigation into her effort to start — I’m not kidding — a women’s initiative.

The probe found no wrongdoing, according to her complaint, which would hardly be a shock considering she says she received kudos for her project from everyone from her immediate boss to Deutsche Bank’s former chief executive officer of the Americas: “I’m very proud of you,” Seth Waugh wrote in an e-mail on Feb 11, 2011, that Shliselberg allowed me to review.

After that session in HR, Shliselberg was escorted to her desk, where boxes had already been delivered so she could pack and leave.

You almost wonder if there was something in the water at the bank that can’t do enough to advocate for women. Twelve days before Shliselberg filed her lawsuit, Deutsche Bank fired Heather Zhao, a vice president in Deutsche Bank’s global investment solutions group.

That axing came nine days before Zhao was scheduled to return from maternity leave, according to her complaint filed March 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Zhao’s suit says that after she learned she was pregnant in early 2012, she was blanketed with Neanderthal-style remarks from men at the bank. One highlight, according to her complaint: “Maybe I should get pregnant so I can work from home.”

Best place for mothers, indeed.

Deutsche Bank spokeswoman Michele Allison said the bank wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Not to pile on, but while we’re on the subject of pregnancy, another employee, Kelley Voelker, was fired from her job as a vice president on the securities-lending desk in September. She said in an amended complaint in U.S. District Court in October that after suing the bank for pregnancy discrimination in September 2011, Deutsche Bank retaliated by firing her. In a response, the bank denied it discriminated or retaliated against Voelker.

Class Act

Deutsche Bank is still in litigation with Voelker, but according to a transcript of a March 18 hearing in her case, two unidentified women who considered starting a class action reached settlements with the bank this year.

Another settlement: Latifa Bouabdillah, a former director in London who sued in May 2011 in the U.K. for sex discrimination. Her lawyer, Tim Johnson, said in an e-mail that the terms were confidential.

As for Shliselberg, I have to wonder if her sorry fate wasn’t somehow related to the dopey public statement of Deutsche Bank’s former CEO Josef Ackermann, who in February 2011 said that the bank’s executive committee would be “more colorful and prettier” once it added a woman or two. Ackermann’s words led to a media maelstrom just as Shliselberg was getting traction for her idea to start a nonprofit group to be called Women in Sovereign Entities.

By the time she was meeting with a bank steering committee in London in April 2011, she was hearing worries that had more than a hint of paranoia: Shliselberg told me one man at the meeting said he was afraid that her proposed group might host an event where women could “get out of control” and take over the agenda.

In its response to a parallel complaint Shliselberg filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Deutsche Bank said she had misinterpreted management’s support for her proposal, and that she had raised her allegations of discrimination as leverage to negotiate a cushy exit package. Shliselberg “began neglecting her work” after she started to focus on creating the women’s organization, the bank said. Deutsche Bank’s decision not to sponsor her project was based on business concerns, not discrimination, according to the response.

It’s hard to buy the idea that the same woman who had been praised in performance evaluations as having “excellent communications skills” somehow went clueless when her bosses were trying to tell her that her project for women was a no-go. If this is the best that the “best” company for women can come up with, the banking industry is even more hopeless than I thought.

JPMorgan’s Teflon CEO Glides Past Reputation Hits

What does it take for investors and other supporters of a popular public company to finally decide the firm has gone too far in breaking the rules?

If you’re JPMorgan Chase & Co., it apparently takes more than a $6.2 billion trading blunder, a really embarrassing hearing before a Senate investigations committee, and a report that 8 federal agencies are circling you with probes.

In my column today for Bloomberg View, I write about the stunning ability of “The World’s Most-Admired Bank” to wallow in credit for all its good news, but slip by when the bad stuff happens.

“Steel City Re, a Pittsburgh-based firm that measures corporate reputations, ranks the bank in the 90th percentile among 50 financial conglomerates…Little wonder, I suppose, that earlier this year, JPMorgan topped the Fortune magazine list of most-admired banks in the world for the second year in a row. Are the bank’s admirers living in some parallel universe where black marks just don’t register?”

 

How does JPMorgan do it? You can read my column here.

JPMorgan’s Teflon CEO Glides Past Reputation Hits

Money

JPMorgan Chase & Co. and its chief executive officer, Jamie Dimon, have been dealing with a blitz of bad news of late, but you wouldn’t know it from the accolades that keep getting heaped on them.

There was the $6.2 billion trading loss best known as the London Whale debacle that Dimon dismissed as a “tempest in a teapot”; the humiliating hearing before Senator Carl Levin’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, where we learned that Dimon had played a role in managing the wrong-way trades; and, to top it off, the New York Times on March 26 reported that eight federal agencies were circling the bank with various probes.

Then there are the costs to settle regulatory cases and litigation. Joshua Rosner, an analyst at Graham Fisher & Co. in New York, estimated these have totaled as much as $8.5 billion since 2009 — and that doesn’t count any of the mortgage-related givebacks that came after the financial crisis.

That’s all serious stuff, you might be thinking. So why are investors and sycophantic media types still under the spell of JPMorgan and its top guy?

Even as the grim news was piling up for Dimon and his bank, Barron’s magazine last month honored him as one of the “World’s Best CEOs” — a short list of 30 international superstars.

Feeling Loved

JPMorgan, meanwhile, is feeling the love when it comes to its stakeholders. Steel City Re, a Pittsburgh-based firm that measures corporate reputations, ranks the bank in the 90th percentile among 50 financial conglomerates. Nir Kossovsky, a Steel City co-founder, says he calculates how stakeholders reward or punish companies through such things as sales volume, vendor terms and credit costs.

Little wonder, I suppose, that earlier this year, JPMorgan topped the Fortune magazine list of most-admired banks in the world for the second year in a row. Are the bank’s admirers living in some parallel universe where black marks just don’t register?

Joe Evangelisti, a spokesman for JPMorgan, declined to comment.

At least some of the goodwill toward JPMorgan exists because when it comes to controversy, the bank is a master at spin. At a black-tie gala at New York’s over-the-top restaurant Cipriani Wall Street on March 19, Dimon landed first prize for “Best IR by a CEO or chairman” at the IR Magazine Awards, aka “the industry’s most prestigious and coveted awards that honor leading companies and professionals in investor relations.” A second award to JPMorgan specifically cited the bank for its bang-up job at crisis management.

To win a prize for crisis management, of course, you need to be in a crisis, but that doesn’t seem to sway supporters of the bank or its CEO, who make what sounds like a reasonable argument: JPMorgan is making money, which makes shareholders happy and keeps the board off Dimon’s back. So what’s not to like?

Amar Bhide, a professor of international business at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has done some thinking about that question, and said JPMorgan and its competitors are making too much of their money with taxpayer support.

“From the point of view of shareholders, Dimon is not doing a terrible job,” Bhide said. “One could take the extreme point of view and say that you want these people to gamble because they are gambling with the public’s money. If you are a stockholder, you get a nearly free ride, so why not?”

Taxpayer Backing

Banks and their investors know that there’s an implicit backstop — a taxpayer bailout — that will kick in during the worst-case scenario of a financial-system meltdown. Dimon actually endorses the idea of a resolution authority that would wind down failing banks, which sounds great as far as it goes.

But the “savvy leader of the world’s most important bank,” as Barron’s calls him, wants JPMorgan to be able to get bigger and to serve more global clients. How do you force countries outside of the U.S. to comply with another country’s resolution authority? In his letter to shareholders last year, Dimon said that close cooperation would be “required by multiple regulators.”

Sydney Finkelstein, a management professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, says a resolution plan isn’t enough and that banks need to be broken up. The U.S.’s biggest banks are too unwieldy for anyone to manage, he said.

Which takes us back to that $6.2 billion loss springing from the London Whale trades.

Some of JPMorgan’s problems are a lot like the problems of its competitors. Banks are peddling products that sometimes are only understood by a small club of physicists who used to work at places such as NASA before rocket science became the new profit driver at banks.

But I digress. Our banks are selling stuff that top management can’t keep tabs on, and it’s putting the financial system at risk. Even Dimon showed he was at a loss to explain the Whale blowup when he made his reference to a tempest in a teapot.

JPMorgan’s CEO has another problem: that enormous tab the bank has run up to settle cases with regulators and litigants. In a March 12 report titled “JPMorgan Chase: Out of Control,” Rosner, the Graham Fisher analyst, wrote that he couldn’t find another U.S. bank with such big settlement outlays.

JPMorgan is a master at racking up PR points when it’s boasting about things such as its “fortress balance sheet.” But it has been able to dodge setbacks when it breaks the rules. You have to wonder whether, at some point, it might catch up with the world’s most-admired bank and its magazine-cover CEO.

Are you a lowly Main Street investor? Well, nobody cares what you think about financial reform

It’s never a great time to be a lowly member of the investing public looking for protection from the sharks of finance. But today? Well, try to lower your expectations a tad more.

Deep-pocketed banks are dominating the process of writing the new financial rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act. It isn’t that there’s nobody advocating for small investors. It’s just that the few organizations that make a case for the public are outgunned by the well-funded financial industry.

“Despite a significant expansion in the number of foot soldiers out there working in the public interest on these financial issues, we are still completely overwhelmed by the industry lobbyists,” Dennis Kelleher, chief executive officer of Better Markets, told me.

I wrote about the lopsided battle to influence the new financial rules in my Bloomberg View column tonight. You can read it here.

 

 

Hate Follows When the Police Try to Do Their Job

It’s a lousier time than usual to be a lowly member of the investing public looking for protection from the sharks of finance.

Deep-pocketed banks are dominating the process of writing the new financial rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, dwarfing the efforts of investor advocates looking to rein in the banks.

At the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is charged with protecting investors, lawbreakers can cut sweet deals for exemptions from punishments before the ink is dry on their settlement papers.

Efforts to help everyday investors, in the meantime, can wind up taking a back seat. Dodd-Frank, signed into law in July 2010, required the SEC to establish and staff an Office of the Investor Advocate. More than 2 1/2 years later, the project is stuck on the agency’s to-do list.

“There’s a basic resistance to seeing things from the investor point of view,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America. “It all goes back to the same thing — the degree to which the industry dominates this whole conversation.”

It’s a cultural problem as Roper sees it: Regulators and the regulated operate in a setting where people with the same pedigree move back and forth between government and private-sector jobs and outside views carry little weight. SEC spokesman Kevin Callahan said in an e-mail that investor protection is at the core of all the agency’s actions, and that until an investor advocate is appointed, existing SEC offices are performing the roles required by Dodd-Frank.

Old Acquaintance

A study released last month by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group, stirred up a discussion about the revolving door of lawyers who alternate between government and industry, where they defend banks and brokers. Sorting through documents filed by 419 SEC alumni who had recently left the agency, the Project found 2,000 cases in which alumni planned to represent a client or an employer before the SEC between 2001 and 2010.

That’s a lot of meetings among lawyers who used to work down the hall from one another, but who now — officially, anyway — are adversaries. In the view of SEC critics, it is part of the clubby state of affairs that pushes government watchdogs and banks to see things the same way. Callahan said that the U.S. Government Accountability Office studied the revolving-door issue and concluded that the SEC’s controls were as strong as those of other government agencies. What a relief.

The public’s concern that regulators “are on the same team or focused in the same way as the entities they are supposed to be regulating” is a valid one, New York University Law School professor Rachel Barkow said on a panel at the New York City Bar Association last month. If more of an effort were made to have representatives of consumers at agencies, “you might have a more proactive movement right now to break some of the big banks up,” she said.

For now, the banks throw their weight around. To get an idea of just how much access bankers get to regulators, consider the calculations that Duke University law professor Kimberly Krawiec and Duke lecturing fellow Guangya Liu recently completed. Krawiec and Liu tallied up all the meetings that the Treasury Department, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the SEC, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. had with various constituencies between October 2011 and December 2012 to discuss the Volcker rule.

Industry Outguns

Public interest groups such as Americans for Financial Reform and Better Markets had 64 meetings with the regulators. The financial industry and its representatives: 551.

Those sit-down meetings “are where the real work is taking place,” Krawiec says. “And the meetings were almost completely dominated by financial firms, their trade groups and their law firms.”

Regulators aren’t turning away public-interest groups that ask for meetings. It’s just that the financial industry has such vast resources that it overpowers the conversation. “Despite a significant expansion in the number of foot soldiers out there working in the public interest on these financial issues, we are still completely overwhelmed by the industry lobbyists,” said Dennis Kelleher, chief executive officer of Better Markets.

It won’t make it any easier to push for reform if the stock market keeps hitting new highs, which inevitably will cause memories of the crisis to fade.

NYU’s Barkow suggested that regulators seek out people from different backgrounds to fill consumer-advocate positions that would carry clout in policy disputes.

There actually is a government agency that has gone out of its way to get diverse views. It is reviled by the banking industry and is under attack by politicians who want to diminish its independence and prevent it from carrying out its mandate. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a consumer advisory board that includes 13 female and 12 male members, four of whom are Hispanic. They have backgrounds in public policy, housing, retirement advocacy and academia.

Compare that to the SEC’s investor advisory committee, which does include Roper and other investor-friendly members but also has two hedge-fund officials, a private-equity executive, a venture capital guy and a director from the Bush Institute, a public policy research group founded by former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. The board of governors at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority relegates two of its “public” seats to retired securities industry officials.

You don’t hear any drums beating to shut Finra or to reduce the SEC’s independence. Show me a financial regulator with real independence and input from diverse voices, and I’ll show you a sitting duck for vicious attacks.

Don’t Skewer Sheryl Sandberg

There’s a lot of work to be done between here and equality for women. Rich women in good jobs have one set of problems and poor women have another. Women with children pile on a whole new set of challenges. And women most anywhere can tell you there’s still discrimination that needs to be fixed in the workplace.

So why do critics expect that Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, would be able to solve every problem that women face in one book? I review Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead” for Bloomberg Muse today. You can read it here.

Antilla columns get Commentary award

The Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) announced winners of its “Best in Business” journalism awards today. I’m honored to be on the list for my 2012 columns for Bloomberg View. You can see a list of all the winners here.

From the judges: “Susan Antilla’s sharp-edged commentaries give no quarter to those who mistreat investors or to the meek regulators who let offenders off easy. Her writing is crisp and eviscerating — two powerful traits when it comes to sharing opinions. Antilla demonstrates a shrewd understanding of the financial industry and its unsteady interaction with the federal government.”

Getting a little vertigo from the regulatory revolving door?

There’s been a lot of attention to the government-to-private practice “revolving door” since President Barack Obama nominated white-collar defense lawyer Mary Jo White to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investor advocates say we should be worried when lawyers shuffle back and forth between jobs as regulators and lucrative spots defending banks and brokerage firms. But the lawyers who move in and out of government jobs say they can handle the conflicts just fine.

The New York City Bar Association had a panel to discuss “The Financial Crisis and the Regulatory Revolving Door” on Feb. 12 and moderator Scott Cohn of CNBC posed the question “Which is it?” Is it spinning out of control or is it non-existent?”

I was one of the six panelists, and cited a few gems from a just-released report by The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) that illustrated the close connection between the SEC and its alumni who’d moved on to represent the institutions the SEC regulates.

In an item about the panel on Feb. 19, POGO said “White’s nomination highlights the challenge that the SEC and many agencies face when senior officials have tangled ties to the industry they’re supposed to be regulating.” You can read the POGO post here.

I wrote about Mary Jo White’s conflicts in a recent column for Bloomberg View.

Your thoughts on the debate? Let me know at @antillaview or susan.antilla15@gmail.com.