Senate Dems want watchdog to probe if SEC official tried to pressure bank on gun policies
© Greg Nash
Senate Democrats want the top watchdog at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate if a commissioner tried to influence Citigroup to reverse new policies restricting business with firearms manufacturers.
Several Democrats, led by Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Senate buzz grows for Abrams after speech electrifies Dems MORE (D-Md.), are sending a letter to Carl Hoecker, the inspector general at the SEC, on Wednesday asking him to look into comments Commissioner Michael Piwowar reportedly made to Citigroup during a meeting earlier this year.
"We do have concerns that Commissioner Piwowar may have abused his government position in an attempt to unduly influence Citigroup to reverse a business decision that conflicts with his personal and political views," the Democratic lawmakers wrote in their letter.
They add that they want Hoecker's office to investigate the incident and "take action as appropriate." 
Bloomberg reported last month that Piwowar, a Republican appointee to the commission, used a meeting with Citigroup expected to be on derivatives regulation to scold the bank on "straying into social policy."
Citigroup announced in March that it would start requiring clients to place some restrictions on gun sales, including banning the sale of firearms to anyone under the age of 21. The bank is also requiring retail clients to only sell guns to individuals who pass a background check and to not sell bump stocks or high-capacity magazines.
Some executives at the meeting between the SEC and Citigroup took Piwowar's comments as a "thinly veiled threat," according to Bloomberg, that the bank could have trouble getting the votes of GOP appointees on the SEC on easing derivative regulations because of its actions on gun control. 
The Democratic senators called Piwowar's reported comments "alarming" and suggested they could violate the Standards of Ethical Conduct for executive branch employees. 
"The SEC should base regulatory decisions on facts and merits, not on unrelated corporate practices that a particular Commissioner dislikes or that are disliked by organizations they support," they wrote in the letter on Wednesday.
"Further, we ask that you investigate whether Mr. Piwowar observed proper rules and procedures with regard to the Federal Sunshine Act, as the meeting in question was in connection to a rule that is currently being considered by the SEC," the Democratic senators continued.
Republicans have lashed out at Citigroup and Bank of America, which said earlier this year that it would not “underwrite or finance military-style firearms," over their changes on new gun policies. 
But Democrats have raised alarm over the Bloomberg report. Van Hollen hinted during a Senate Appropriations hearing earlier this month that they would be asking the SEC inspector general to look into the matter. 
"I think you'll be receiving a letter in your capacity as chairman, but we're also going to be asking the IG to take a look at this. Regulatory bodies should not be using their authority to try to assert the personal opinions of the members," Van Hollen told SEC Chairman Jay Clayton during a hearing last week.