The Trump campaign’s final TV commercial last November spelled out his pledge to take on Wall Street. It featured a photo of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and a voice over describing “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class.”
If you worked for Goldman Sachs, you might have thought you were in for a tough time when the election results came in.
It soon became apparent that Goldman had little to fear after the announcements of Trump appointees such as Steven Bannon, Trump's top advisor in the White House and a former Goldman partner; Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman partner; Chairman of the National Economic Club Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman and Goldman Sach’s “go-to” lawyer, Walter “Jay” Clayton, for chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
By now it looks like a twist on the old joke: He who’s been at Goldman, rules. Bannon, Mnuchin and Cohn are in their new offices, and there’s not much we can do about it. But Clayton must still have his nomination confirmed by the Senate.
We already have an Environmental Protection Agency head who has made a career out of suing that agency. Do we really want an SEC chairman who has spent his career fighting the SEC?
Clayton is a partner in the prestigious law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. His number one client for many years has been Goldman Sachs. There is certainly nothing wrong with a lawyer representing the best interests of his client, but can that lawyer possibly be the best choice to lead the agency charged with searching out illegal activities on Wall Street?
The mission statement of the SEC is “to protect investors; maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets; and facilitate capital formation. The SEC strives to promote a market environment that is worthy of the public's trust.”
That means the SEC is the watchdog charged with protecting us from any abuses of the system by firms such as Goldman Sachs. Last year, Goldman paid $5 billion to settle allegations by the Department of Justice that it defrauded investors and the public when it was profiteering before and during the financial meltdown of 2008-2009.
Jay Clayton can’t escape his close ties to Goldman Sachs and people like Cohn and Mnuchin, who personally helped create and trade the asset-backed securities that led to financial collapse and trillions of dollars of government bailouts (including billions for Goldman). Clayton helped get those deals done.
When Goldman represented a Chinese company with questionable accounting in the largest Initial Public Offering in the history of United States markets, Clayton was there to help structure the deal. Did it matter that the new company offered almost no shareholder rights? Does it matter that the company is now, predictably, under investigation for its accounting practices?
Jay Clayton has a lot of experience getting around our securities laws, but zero experience enforcing them. The SEC is our first line of defense to protect Americans from massive frauds like Enron and Bernie Madoff. It is the agency most responsible for ensuring we never again have to bail out Wall Street firms after they help cause another financial crisis.
We need accountability at the SEC. We need stronger —not weaker — rules to protect investors and taxpayers. We need more and better enforcement of those rules. We need someone to head the SEC who is committed to looking out for the interests of average American investors.
What we need, in fact, is someone who agrees with the Trump campaign commercial about the power structure that robbed our working class. Can anyone seriously suggest that Jay Clayton is that person?
Ted Kaufman is a former U.S. senator (D-Del.), and he served as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.