Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society
LOOKING BACK

40th ANNIVERSARY OF THE SUNSHINE ACT

July 1951 SEC Commission: Richard B. McEntire, Donald C. Cook, Harry A. McDonald, Paul R. Rowen and Robert I. Millonzi

"To me, [the Sunshine Act] is counterproductive. We used to have very vigorous arguments at the Commission table when there was nobody present. If Frank [Wheat] and I disagreed, or Manny [Cohen] and I disagreed, or any of us disagreed, we would speak up and argue it out. I think it's untoward to have that kind of collegial discussion and arguments in front of the staff, but that's the only way it can be done now."

- June 19, 2002 Interview with Richard Smith, SEC Commissioner, 1967-1971

This year marks the anniversary of the 1976 enactment of the Government in the Sunshine Act, one of a number of Freedom of Information Acts intended to create greater transparency in government. The Sunshine Act continues to impact the conduct of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today:

"The post-Watergate Sunshine Act is a third rail of sorts. The SEC definitely embraces increased transparency, which was the purpose of the Act, and is quite observant of the Act's restrictions. But as a practical matter, it means that the Commissioners, including me, can talk to only one fellow Commissioner at a time about a policy issue, unless we are in an open meeting following public notice about its date and time. By the time of that open meeting, everybody already knows what he or she will say and even how the vote will come out. That is not the most efficient way of proceeding. Often Commissioners deal with their fellow Commissioners through their counsel rather than directly, with a lot of potential for misunderstanding of their respective positions. There are some photos in my office from pre-Sunshine days of the five Commissioners around a table undoubtedly discussing policy issues. I am very envious of that era."

- May 1, 2015 SEC Chair Mary Jo White, The Future of the Securities and Exchange Commission in a Changing World (© The American Assembly, Columbia University)

Museum

SING SING'S GATES CLOSE ON RICHARD WHITNEY


Treasures from the Collection

During the year, the virtual museum and archive will highlight significant primary and original materials on financial regulation unique to its collection.

The week of April 12, 1938, cinema patrons throughout America watched this Hearst Metrotone News of the Day newsreel of Richard Whitney, former head of the New York Stock Exchange - "the man whose downfall shocked the nation" - entering 'grim Sing Sing on the Hudson." Earlier that year, the New York Stock Exchange discovered that their former president and current member of the Board of Governors was an embezzler and his company insolvent. Whitney pled guilty and was sentenced to serve five to ten years for grand larceny.

The narrative follows Whitney "nearing the Big House" and "last to emerge, handcuffed to petty racketeers, a fallen idol," and concludes with "from this day forward, Richard Whitney becomes a number, No. 94835 Sing Sing Prison." Whitney was to serve three years.

For more on Richard Whitney, visit Precipitating a Palace Revolt in 431 Days: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Creation of the SEC Gallery, and The Chairmanship of William O. Douglas in William O. Douglas and the Growing Power of the SEC Gallery.

Permission for Use

The virtual museum and archive is copyrighted by the SEC Historical Society. The Society reserves the right to restrict access to or use of the museum by any user at any time.

Users are prohibited from sharing or downloading any material for publication or commercial purposes without written permission from the Executive Director. Requests for permission must be submitted by email and specify the material requested and for what purpose.

Material used with the Society's permission should be credited to: www.sechistorical.org.