WASHINGTON — Martha Mahan Haines, 59, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s muni chief, will retire at the end of June after 12 years in the SEC’s municipal securities office.
Haines’s departure comes as the muni office grapples with a workload imposed one year ago by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including the commission’s proposed registration scheme for municipal advisers.
“There’s so much going on right now, it’s hard to leave,” Haines said. “I just have to do it when it’s right for me.”
Haines, a Detroit native, launched her career as a bond lawyer at Chapman and Cutler LLP in Chicago in 1978, after graduating from the University of Michigan Law School. She charted her specialty by process of elimination, wanting to steer clear of litigation, tax and probate.
As a bond lawyer, she enjoyed working with a team to bring issuers to market. After a deal, she said she emerged with a sense of building something tangible, such as a hospital or a school.
By the late 1990s, though, as a law firm partner and single mother of two teenage daughters, Haines started casting about to leave the grind of private practice. In 1999, she applied for an attorney fellowship in the SEC’s muni office, after spotting an ad for the position in The Bond Buyer.
After interviewing with Paul Maco, then head of the muni office and now a partner at Vinson & Elkins LLP in Washington, she moved there and started at the SEC in August. Before long, she realized how little she knew about the municipal securities industry.
“All I knew was the primary market,” she said.
Haines, who has served as the muni office’s chief since 2001, cites the development of EMMA, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s Electronic Municipal Market Access system, as the highlight of her SEC career. She worked on EMMA for eight years she said, collaborating with market participants and the MSRB.
Initially, she said, their efforts met industry opposition, but the system has since gained acceptance — a phenomenon from which she draws a larger lesson.
“I think people tend to view this market from their own perspective,” she said. “And nobody likes change. But change is inevitable.”
Earlier this year, market participants, issuers, and industry groups deluged the SEC with more than 1,000 comment letters on the commission’s proposed muni-adviser registration scheme. Haines and her staff, an attorney and two attorney-fellows, continue to review the comments.
“I think there’s been a great deal of misunderstanding of what we proposed,” she said. “It is very complicated. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. We really, fully appreciate that.”
The commission is expected to release a final rule proposal by the end of the year, she added.
Late last year, Haines applied to head a new muni office, created by Dodd-Frank but not yet funded, that would boast an expanded staff. Under the statute, the director would report directly to the SEC chairman.
But funding for the office has stalled in Congress, Haines said. In recent months, she realized the commission’s post-Dodd-Frank workload would not ease any time soon, enhancing the appeal of retirement.
Haines, who plans to take a year off before deciding her next move, says she’s looking forward to pursuits she has not had time to indulge in the last few years, including sailing, photography, piano lessons and travel.
“I’m just going to wait and see what comes along and what I feel like doing,” she said.
A bond lawyer who knew of Haines’ plans applauded her record at the SEC.
“Martha’s departure from the SEC will be a real loss to the municipal securities marketplace,” said Andrew Kintzinger, a partner at Hunton & Williams LLP in Washington.
Haines, meanwhile, relishes the opportunities she enjoyed. “It’s been interesting every single day,” she said.