NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When President Barack Obama nominated Mary Jo White to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2013, he had strong words for potential rule-breakers: "You don't want to mess with Mary Jo."
But ignoring the president's warning hasn't carried the consequences it might have, in U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's opinion. Since White's confirmation, many companies have still been allowed to settle SEC cases without admitting guilt, and the agency has continued to grant waivers allowing violators to do business as usual, Warren said in a 13-page letter on Tuesday.
"To date, your leadership of the Commission has been extremely disappointing," Warren, D-Mass., wrote in a critique that also took White to task for not yet finalizing rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that would require companies to compare executives' pay with median worker salaries. "You have not been the strong leader that many hoped for -- and that you promised to be," she said.
White defended her record in a written statement and said Warren had described her tenure at the SEC inaccurately.
"I am very proud of the agency's achievements under my leadership, including our record year in enforcement," the chairwoman said. White's early career in regulation included a stint as the First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and she was later named U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Before joining the SEC, White was a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, a Manhattan firm whose clients include Morgan Stanley.
"Sen. Warren's mischaracterization of my statements and the agency's accomplishments is unfortunate, but it will not detract from the work we have done, and will continue to do, on behalf of investors," the SEC chief said.
Warren, a vocal advocate for financial reform, was a Harvard law professor before her election to the Senate. She also chaired the congressional oversight panel for the Trouble Asset Relief Program, an initiative that bolstered banks after the financial crisis by purchasing securities like mortgages that had lost much of their value.
The senator ended her letter by asking White to make several disclosures about the SEC's operation during her tenure as chair, including a detailed timeline for the implementation of the executive pay comparison. She also sought a list of all cases from which White has recused herself, either because of her past employment with Debevoise or because of her husband's continued employment with the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
An SEC spokesperson declined to comment further, including on whether White planned to turn over the information Warren requested.
Warren's letter comes less than a month after a federal investigation led to guilty pleas from four large banks -- JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Barclays (BCS) and Citigroup (C) -- on charges that they worked together to fix dollar-euro exchange rates.
While the banks were fined $2.5 billion by the Justice Department, they did not face any of several penalties that can kick in automatically, such as disqualification from managing mutual funds, according to SEC records.
Warren requested additional information about such waivers in her letter, asking for details about who sought them and the justification for granting them.