It was reported last week that the US Securities and Exchange Commission has awarded a whistleblower $14 million. This is by far the largest amount ever given to a whistleblower under the program instigated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. The whistleblower program outlined in the act suggests that awards should be 10 to 30 percent of the money collected as part of the case, which highlights the gravity of this particular issue. Clearly, massive amounts of money were at stake here, and as such, this emerges as a prime example of the power that whistleblowers have.
The whistleblower in question, who prefers to remain anonymous, provided information to the commission which brought about enforcement action leading to the recovery of significant investor funds. Furthermore, the information allowed the SEC to instigate enforcement action and close the case in under 6 months. The attention garnered by this story is extremely promising, as it suggests that US corporations are recognizing the power of whistleblowers and taking steps to harness that power and reward those who come forward to report wrongdoing. SEC chair Mary Jo White has stated that she hopes that awards such as this one “[encourage] individuals with information to come forward”
This is an especially positive development if one considers the American media’s treatment of the recent headline-grabbing cases involving Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. Both were portrayed as traitors and a threat to American lives, and this made the term ‘whistleblower‘ a contentious one. Admittedly, the SEC’s whistleblower did not pose a risk to national security with their information, but the record-breaking award and subsequent acknowledgement of their importance in resolving the case could perhaps encourage a shift in the American perception of whistleblowers.
Part of the discussion surrounding Snowden and Manning has focussed on the argument that the US is not fostering a culture that values the actions of those who come forward to expose ethical wrongdoing. The swath of awards and nominations Snowden has received in Europe while being simultaneously vilified in his home country is a prime example of the differing attitudes towards whistleblowing that exist globally. The US has acquired a reputation as a country which does not see whistleblowing as entirely positive, and the SEC case will hopefully help to combat any stigma that might have arisen in connection with the label of ‘whistleblower’.
Though there is an obvious difference between the actions of corporate whistleblowers and those of individuals leaking sensitive government materials based on a larger moral agenda, it is refreshing to see coverage that does not paint the act of whistleblowing in an overwhelmingly negative light. Public perception in America has undoubtedly been swayed by the polarizing characterizations of Snowden and Manning, so it is promising to see some positive attention given to whistleblowers.
Beyond the possible effects on public attitudes towards whistleblowers, the SEC’s case is a textbook example of the importance of supporting them. Due to the information brought forward by their whistleblower, the SEC was not only able to resolve the issue in a relatively swift manner, but also managed to protect the a massive amount of money from a multitude of investors. Clearly, the positive outcomes of this case serve to emphasize how integral it is to foster a culture that encourages whistleblowing within any corporation. Encouraging employees to bring information about wrongdoing to light and rewarding them for doing makes them feel valued, and increases pride in their workplace. Therefore, beyond the financial implications there are immeasurable benefits to employee loyalty and engagement when executives support whistleblowing as a foundation of their company’s culture.
 “SEC Rewards Whistleblower with $14M US”, CBC news