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Exiting the Stage, Right

My favorite lobbying move of the year came in early May, in, of course, Washington, D.C.

Mary Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, was about to come on stage at the general membership meeting of the Investment Company Institute. The ICI and SEC had been at loggerheads for months on what has been arguably the hottest issue of the year: What to do about money market mutual funds, to ensure they can withstand runs. Only two months earlier, members of the ICI got to see fireworks first-hand about this, on stage, at the group's mutual fund and investment management conference in Phoenix.

First up one morning was Karrie McMillan, ICI's general counsel. She argued that allowing the value of a share in such a fund to float-which Schapiro had been pushing-would "destroy the value of money market funds." She also called the SEC's proposals "outrageous" and encouraged the audience to applaud that statement.

When done, McMillan then had the pre-arranged honor of introducing ... Commissioner Elisse Walter, who now will succeed Schapiro as chairman of the SEC. Walter took no guff and chastised the industry for taking its bat off the public stage, sulking in a corner and complaining to the press, instead of coming to Washington to talk.

So, here at ICI's flagship meeting of each year was its chief executive Paul Schott Stevens walking from table to table about 10 minutes before Schapiro was to arrive. He was personally asking each group of members to stand and applaud Schapiro when she walked onto the stage. His point: Whatever you may think of her stance on options for the long-term health of money funds, you had to recognize the totality of what Schapiro had done for the financial services industry and the safety of investing, since coming to office.

When she came into the top spot at the SEC, it still was conceivable that this nation's economy and the world's, at large, could implode. From mistakes made by ... the financial industry. Also on the cusp of imploding was the SEC itself. There were calls for disbanding it and starting over again, after it failed to catch the $20 billion Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff.

Money fund reform is not going away, after Schapiro departs. But then again, neither is the SEC. Thanks to Schapiro. That, in itself, is worth a round of applause.