On April 6, President Joseph Biden announced his intent to nominate two individuals to be commissioners of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Jaime Lizárraga is the nominee to replace Commissioner Allison Herren Lee, the Democratic Commissioner who is stepping down from her role. Mark T. Uyeda has been nominated to replace Elad Roisman, the Republican former-Commissioner who left the agency in January.
The SEC has five commissioners, including the chair of the agency. No more than three of the Commissioners are allowed to be of the same political party. If confirmed by the Senate, Lizárraga and Uyeda will join Democrats Chair Gary Gensler and Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw and Republican Hester Peirce.
SEC commissioners play a large role in shaping the agency’s highly successful whistleblower program. The SEC Whistleblower Program, which was established with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, offers monetary awards and anti-retaliation protections to whistleblowers who expose securities laws violations. Whistleblowers have helped the agency recover billions of dollars from fraudsters. Correspondingly, the agency has awarded over $1 billion to whistleblowers.
One way SEC commissioners shape the whistleblower program is by approving, through a vote, any amendments to the program’s rules. For example, in 2020, the SEC commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a number of rule changes, including amendments to the TCR filing requirements as well as the program’s handling of related action awards. The SEC recently announced more proposed rule changes, which are expected to be voted on by the commissioners later this year. One proposed amendment makes further changes to related action award rules and is strongly supported by whistleblower advocates.
The nominees will need to be confirmed by the Senate, and it is expected that they will be questioned on their commitment to the SEC Whistleblower Program during the confirmation process. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has previously questioned Chair Gensler, as well as nominees to be commissioners of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), on whistleblower issues.
Lizárraga currently serves as Senior Advisor to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). He previously served on the Democratic staff of the House Financial Services Committee, and as a Presidential appointee at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the SEC.
“President Biden’s nomination of Jaime Lizárraga to serve as SEC commissioner is an appointment of a devoted champion of working families and a lifelong public servant,” said Pelosi. “As commissioner, Jaime will be a force in safeguarding the interests of the investing public, improving transparency in our financial markets, and building a more equitable financial future for all.”
Uyeda is a career attorney with the SEC. He is currently on detail from the SEC to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, where he serves as Securities Counsel on the Committee’s Minority Staff. Uyeda’s previous roles with the SEC include Senior Advisor to Chairman Jay Clayton and Acting Chairman Michael S. Piwowar, Counsel to Commissioner Paul S. Atkins, and Assistant Director and Senior Special Counsel in the SEC’s Division of Investment Management.
“Mark Uyeda is exceptionally qualified to serve as an SEC commissioner,” said Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA) in a statement. “Having personally worked with Mark during his time as an SEC attorney detailed to the Senate Banking Committee, I know firsthand that Mark’s depth of knowledge on securities and markets is unrivaled. Beyond his sterling credentials and expertise, Mark is a smart, fair, diligent, and humble colleague. The committee’s loss will be the SEC’s gain should he be confirmed to faithfully carry out the SEC’s narrow statutory mandates.”