President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission said he has no specific plans to dismantle regulations implemented under the Dodd-Frank Act, but that the new administration does want to examine whether the 2010 law is stifling economic growth.
"Dodd-Frank should be looked at, in particular rules that have been in place as to whether they are achieving their objectives effectively," Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton said during his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday. "But, I have no specific plans to" attack the legislation, he said.
Clayton, a Sullivan & Cromwell partner whose clients included Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bill Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management, also told members of the Senate Banking Committee that his work for financial firms would be a strength should he win confirmation to lead Wall Street's top regulator.
The finance industry expects Clayton to play a key role in Trump's stated goal of going after Dodd-Frank, particularly with congressional Republicans making little headway in pushing legislation that would scrap major elements of the law.
Democrats have argued that Clayton's legal career representing big banks and hedge funds makes him a questionable choice to lead the SEC, because he might favor Wall Street's interests over those of investors. Republicans, meanwhile, have said his experience is exactly what the SEC needs to cut regulations they bemoan as discouraging companies from using public markets to raise money.
Critics have sought to lump Clayton in with other Trump picks with deep ties to Goldman Sachs including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former partner at the firm, and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who was the bank's president before joining the administration.
If confirmed, Clayton would have to recuse himself for a year from matters involving Sullivan & Cromwell and companies he represented. He also would be barred from ever weighing in on specific business deals or investigations he worked on as a private lawyer.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the finance industry's most relentless Washington critics, said Clayton's potential recusals might make his SEC weak on enforcement, because the agency might end up deadlocking on dozens of cases he has to stay away from.
Clayton said that he wouldn't play favorites and that he's committed to going after wrongdoing. He also said he wants to make it more appealing for companies to sell shares to the public rather than relying on private investments.
"It is clear that our public capital markets are less attractive to business than in the past," Clayton said. "As a result, investment opportunities for Main Street investors are more limited. Here, I see meaningful room for improvement."
When Trump announced Clayton as his choice to be SEC chairman, the president said he wanted the agency to encourage investment in U.S. companies to boost economic growth and job creation.
But Clayton might have to overcome challenges to make any big changes. While the chairman largely controls the SEC's agenda, policies and enforcement actions must still win approval from a majority of the agency's five commissioners.
The SEC currently has just two commissioners, Republican Michael Piwowar and Democrat Kara Stein, giving each of them an effective veto under the agency's quorum rules.
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