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Pro-Warren Group Disbands, As Senator Splits Again With Obama

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the Roosevelt Institute in Washington on May 12.

Run Warren Run, the unofficial organization that for half a year pushed for the Massachusetts senator to seek the presidency, disbanded on Tuesday. Its backers nevertheless "declared victory" for their cause in a Politico magazine post, noting how her "agenda and message have transformed the American political landscape" in the campaign's six-month life.

Not that Warren needs an outside campaign to maintain her populist firebrand status. On the same day Run Warren Run disbanded, Warren continued to be a thorn in the side of not only corporate America but the regulators who keep their eye on it, with a scathing letter to SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White. In it, Warren takes aim not only at the SEC but at White personally, complaining that she herself has not done enough to hold corporate America accountable.

"I am disappointed that you have not been the strong leader that many hoped for — and that you promised to be," Warren wrote.

Warren first takes White to task for delays in completing a Dodd-Frank rule on CEO pay. Under the proposed rule, corporations would annually have to disclose the ratio of the CEO's compensation to the median worker.

But the SEC has been slow to complete the rule. Warren points out that in July 2013, White had said the CEO rule would go into effect in "a month or two." She also recounts a meeting this May in which White said the rule would be finished by this fall.

An SEC official emphasized to NPR that this is still White's thinking on the matter.

"Chair White is still committed to complete the rule within the time frame she described to Sen. Warren" in that meeting, the official tells NPR.

The numbers on CEO compensation could come as a surprise to many Americans. In a 2014 study, researchers at Harvard and Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University found that survey respondents in the U.S. thought the ideal amount of what a CEO's salary should be was 6.7 times what an unskilled worker makes.

However, those respondents knew the true gap was much wider, and they estimated it was 29.6. In reality, CEOs made 354 times what unskilled workers made (as of 2009, the year of the data used in the study).

Proponents believe the rule could shame companies into changing their pay practices. But detractors have also pointed out that the ratios could be misleading or, even worse, that companies could find ways to make them even more misleading.

This was just one of four main areas on which Warren attacked White. She also was upset the SEC did not seek out admissions of wrongdoing from all companies that violate the law. White did institute the practice of seeking those admissions in some cases, but Warren wants these admissions more often.

In addition, Warren asked why the SEC is still giving some institutions "special regulatory privileges" in raising capital despite having committed crimes. She also asked for a complete list of instances in which White has had to recuse herself from cases because of her former employment at — and her husband's current employment at — law firms that "frequently represent companies with business before the SEC."

White, in response, said Warren isn't representing the facts clearly.

"Senator Warren's mischaracterization of my statements and the agency's accomplishments is unfortunate," White said in a statement, "but it will not detract from the work we have done, and will continue to do, on behalf of investors."

The White House also defended White.

"The president does continue to believe that the reasons that he chose her, based on her experience and her values, continue to be important today," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in a Tuesday briefing.

The Warren letter is yet another in a long list of instances in which Warren has loudly denounced powerful interests — be they corporations or government agencies. The moves have also pitted her, at times, against President Obama, the head of her party, and in very public ways on issues ranging from regulation to trade. They have also given Warren special status as a powerful populist symbol in a time of skyrocketing income inequality.

She has a knack for making her concerns into causes. Warren has been such a huge presence in the liberal fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, that President Obama has singled her out in defending the trade pact.

She was the loudest voice in the campaign to stop the nomination of Wall Street banker Antonio Weiss for a high-ranking Treasury post — a fight she won when Weiss withdrew. Warren also called out Fed Chair Janet Yellen in a hearing earlier this year for the actions of a relatively obscure official, Fed General Counsel Scott Alvarez. She made the phrase "swaps pushout" a key part of last year's "cromnibus" debate.

It's a cycle — her constant stream of picking new fights makes her into an icon, and that icon status makes people take note of her latest fights. That's what makes her register on presidential polls despite not even running, and it's what makes organizations like Run Warren Run pop up in the first place.

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