This article was originally featured in our All Rise newsletter on February 7, 2022. For more legal content and news, follow the link to subscribe. 

The Dodd-Frank law passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to clean up Wall Street was a sweeping bill, with dozens of provisions. One of the less-remarked-upon features has caused an avalanche of payouts to tipsters reporting financial wrongdoing.

But this bounty program is now getting more attention, since it’s resulted in more than $1 billion in payouts to whistleblowers and more than $4.8 billion in SEC sanctions since 2012. The pace has quickened considerably of late. In fiscal year 2021, the agency issued more awards—$564 million to 108 whistleblowers—than in the prior 10 years combined.

Why the recent increase? Some think it’s because a new presidential administration is more serious about pursuing financial wrongdoing. The Wall Street Journal has even suggested that tipsters are more emboldened by working at home. But experts say the slow timeline for these cases rules out both explanations.

Adam Herzog, with the firm Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP, represented a whistleblower client who last year won a $3.2 million settlement from the SEC. He thinks the answer is far simpler.

“I imagine the SEC staff is getting more efficient at working through these cases as time goes on,” he says, noting that the agency has streamlined their internal process to more quickly dispose of nuisance tips. “By the same token, lawyers such as myself have gotten better at giving the SEC what it needs to pursue these cases. We’re getting better at screening would-be whistleblowers.”

And he offers a novel take on why these cases ultimately matter. “From my perspective, this is part and parcel of the MeToo movement. (Being a whistleblower) is about one person speaking up about wrongdoing by powerful people.”

 

John Ettorre is an Emmy-award-winning writer, based in Cleveland. His work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor.