Prior to the enactment of the federal securities laws and the creation of the SEC, there existed so-called blue sky laws. They were enacted and enforced at the state level, and regulated the offering and sale of securities to protect the public from fraud. Though the specific provisions of these laws varied among states, they all required the registration of all securities offerings and sales, as well as of every U.S. stockbroker and brokerage firm.
However, these blue sky laws were generally found to be ineffective. For example, the Investment Bankers Association told its members as early as 1915 that they could "ignore" blue sky laws by making securities offerings across state lines through the mail. After holding hearings on abuses on interstate frauds (commonly known as the Pecora Commission), Congress passed the Securities Act of 1933 (15 U.S.C. § 77a), which regulates interstate sales of securities (original issues) at the federal level. The subsequent Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. § 78d) regulates sales of securities in the secondary market. Section 4 of the 1934 act created the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to enforce the federal securities laws; both laws are considered parts of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal raft of legislation.
The Securities Act of 1933 is also known as the "Truth in Securities Act" and the "Federal Securities Act”, or just the "1933 Act." Its goal was to increase public trust in the capital markets by requiring uniform disclosure of information about public securities offerings. The primary drafters of 1933 Act were Huston Thompson, a former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chairman, and Walter Miller and Ollie Butler, two attorneys in the Commerce Department's Foreign Service Division, with input from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. For the first year of the law's enactment, the enforcement of the statute rested with the Federal Trade Commission, but this power was transferred to the SEC following its creation in 1934. (Interestingly, the first, rejected draft of the Securities Act written by Samuel Untermyer vested these powers in the U.S. Post Office, because Untermyer believed that only by vesting enforcement powers with the postal service could the constitutionality of the act be assured.) The law requires that issuing companies register distributions of securities with the SEC prior to interstate sales of these securities, so that investors may have access to basic financial information about issuing companies and risks involved in investing in the securities in question. Since 1994, most registration statements (and associated materials) filed with the SEC can be accessed via the SEC’s online system, EDGAR.
The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is also known as "the Exchange Act" or "the 1934 Act". This act regulates secondary trading between individuals and companies which are often unrelated to the original issuers of securities. Entities under the SEC’s authority include securities exchanges with physical trading floors such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), self-regulatory organizations (SROs) such as the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB), online trading platforms such as the NASDAQ Stock Market (NASDAQ) and alternative trading systems (ATSs), and any other persons (e.g., securities brokers) engaged in transactions for the accounts of others.
President Roosevelt appointed Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., father of President John F. Kennedy, to serve as the first Chairman of the SEC, along with James M. Landis (one of the architects of the 1934 Act and other New Deal legislation) and Ferdinand Pecora (Chief Counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Banking and Currency during its investigation of Wall Street banking and stock brokerage practices). Other prominent SEC commissioners and chairmen include William O. Douglas (who went on to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice), Jerome Frank (one of the leaders of the legal realism movement), and William J. Casey (who later headed the Central Intelligence Agency under President Ronald Reagan).