Trump SEC Pick Made Millions Representing Banks, Hedge Funds

  • Jay Clayton’s clients include Goldman Sachs, Pershing Square
  • He’s earned $7.62 million at law firm since 2015, form shows

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission has earned $7.62 million since 2015 representing some of Wall Street’s biggest firms, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management, according to a federal disclosure form.

Jay Clayton, the Sullivan & Cromwell partner tapped by Trump, outlined his clients -- and his potential conflicts -- in a filing to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics that he signed in January. The breadth of Clayton’s legal work is likely to provide fodder for Democratic lawmakers, who have already criticized the SEC chairman nominee over his ties to the financial industry.

If confirmed by the Senate, Clayton would have to recuse himself for one year from matters involving Sullivan & Cromwell and companies he represented. He also would be barred from ever weighing in on a specific business deal or an investigation that he worked on as a lawyer. At least one of Clayton’s clients, Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., has disclosed that it’s being investigated by the SEC. Pershing Square, another Clayton client, is among Valeant’s biggest investors and Ackman sits on the company’s board.

Clayton’s disclosure form also shows deep ties to Goldman Sachs, where his wife works as a wealth manager. Clayton has done legal work for the Wall Street bank and has represented some of its former top executives. They include Roy J. Zuckerberg, who was one of Goldman Sachs’s longest-tenured partners when he retired almost 20 years ago, and Eric Schwartz, the former co-head of the firm’s investment-management division who left in 2007 to start his own business. Clayton’s wife plans to leave Goldman Sachs if he wins Senate confirmation.

Democratic Criticism

Other Clayton clients include Paul Tudor Jones, the billionaire founder of hedge fund Tudor Investment Corp., and Ally Financial Inc., one of the last big banks to repay the government bailout it received during the 2008 financial crisis. Clayton also represented William Erbey, the founder and former chairman of Ocwen Financial Corp. The mortgage servicing company agreed to pay $2 million in January 2016 to settle SEC allegations that it misstated its financial results.

Democrats, including Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, his party’s ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee, have questioned whether Clayton will be a tough regulator after he spent his legal career representing Wall Street firms.

Yet, it isn’t unheard of for lawyers to run the agency after performing lucrative work for banks and other corporations. Former U.S. prosecutor Mary Jo White spent years at law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP before returning to government service as the SEC’s chairman under Barack Obama in 2013.

At the time, she reported earning more than $2.4 million from her partnership stake at the firm the previous year. She and her husband, also an attorney, had amassed assets valued between $9.9 million and $41 million, according to her disclosures. And her recusal plan listed a number of major companies, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and General Electric Co.

Hearing Set

The banking panel has scheduled Clayton’s confirmation hearing for March 23. Even if Democrats unite against Clayton, he’s still expected to secure enough votes from Republicans to get approval.

Since White stepped down as SEC chairman in January, the five-member agency has had just two commissioners, Republican Michael Piwowar, who is serving as acting chair, and Democrat Kara Stein.

With commissioner seats empty and Piwowar and Stein being members of different political parties, the regulator has been working on non-controversial policies. Clayton will be expected to help the Trump administration advance its stated agenda of rolling back rules should he win Senate confirmation.

— With assistance by Robert Schmidt, and David Scheer

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