President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law in July or 2010. In the past four years, the law has had far-reaching consequences, from managing the usage of conflict minerals to changing the definition of executive pay. But perhaps the most important provisions of Dodd-Frank was the establishment of the Office of the Whistleblower, and the creation of a system of rewards for individuals whose whistleblowing information led to more than a million dollars in sanctions. Here are some of the key moments in the timeline of the SEC whistleblower program.
A bill becomes a law
On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed Dodd-Frank into law, and the whistleblower bounty program officially began. The program was designed to reward individuals who give information that leads to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement action when sanctions surpass $1 million. When sanctions are finalized individuals who provide the information are entitled to between 10 and 30 percent of the recovery. The whistleblower provision was also designed to protect these individuals from retaliation, though the SEC is still working out the kinks there. Due to the time it takes to investigate these matters, the first such bounty would not be awarded until much later.
Slightly more than a year later, on August 12, 2011, the whistleblower program officially came into effect with the launch of www.sec.gov/whistleblower. The site gave information about eligibility requirements, directions on how to submit a tip or complaint, how to apply for an award and a section on frequently asked questions. The new program, and final rules that were adopted in May of 2011, hoped to elicit better, more timely tips, maximize outside resources and encourage stronger, more robust compliance programs. At first, tips came in slowly, but the pace increased as the awards grew.
The first award
It took more than a year for the first award to come down the pike, but on August 21, 2012, the SEC handed out the first whistleblower reward. The award was somewhat modest, totaling $50,000. It went to an unnamed whistleblower who gave the SEC a tip on a multimillion-dollar securities fraud scheme. SEC officials stated that the award was equivalent to 30 percent of the sum they collected from fraudsters. On April 4, 2014, the SEC announced that it had awarded an additional $150,000 to the same whistleblower.
The flood doors open
The second award would come one year later, in August of 2013, and clocked in at a modest $25,000. But, on October 1, 2013, the SEC handed out the jackpot award that many had been anticipating. The Commission announced that its latest whistleblower payment amounted to a staggering $14 million, meaning that the monetary sanctions against the company in question totaled at least $46.7 million. To many, this signaled a true commitment to the program on the SEC’s part, and certainly encouraged more individuals to submit tips. The SEC now reports that it receives more than 6,000 tips annually.
Still going strong
In the 10 months since that record award, the SEC has handed out 5 more awards, though none has come close to surpassing the $14 million record. A June 3, 2014 award totaled more than $875,000 split between two whistleblowers, and the latest award, announced on July 31, 2014, totaled more than $400,000. This award was significant, as it represented the overturning of a previous ruling that had found the tipster ineligible for a bounty. Though most of these awards have hovered in the six-figure range, the SEC hopes that they are enough incentive to keep the program going and to convince companies to tighten up their internal compliance in order to prevent these problems in the first place.