The Washington Post reports today that, under Chairman Christopher Cox, an ex-Congressman, the Securities and Exchange Commission collected a whopping $256 million in fines during 2008. 

The bad news?  The 2008 take represented 16 percent of the $1.59 billion the SEC brought in during 2005, at the start of Mr. Cox's reign.

The report summarizes the problems thus:

During Cox's tenure, investigators who wanted to subpoena documents or compel interviews faced an increasingly cumbersome process to win the commission's approval for each case, according to current and former agency officials.

Cox also required enforcement officials to see the commissioners before approaching a company about a civil settlement. In several high-profile cases, when SEC lawyers were ready to ask the commission to authorize lawsuits or approve settlements, Cox postponed the decisions at the last minute, leaving cases unresolved for months, the sources said. At times, as in the Biovail case [in which the commission knocked down a penalty to a small fraction of what SEC staff had sought], the commission eventually weakened the sanctions sought by the enforcement division.