Democrats question actions of SEC’s Piwowar

An initiative that could reduce the number of compliance exams faced by private fund firms is facing scrutiny.

Four Democrat senators have called for an investigation into actions taken by Securities and Exchange Commission acting chairman Michael Piwowar on the grounds he may have exceeded his authority.

Piwowar has attempted to make it harder for SEC staff to instigate examinations, among other things.

In a letter addressed to the agency’s inspector general, the group said it was concerned Piwowar’s actions lacked adequate justification and could undermine the SEC’s mission.

“We are concerned that Commissioner Piwowar’s actions exceed his authority as chairman, violate other procedural requirements, and could potentially prove to be a waste of the SEC staff’s precious time and resources,” the letter said.

In February, Piwowar requested an examination of delegated authority which gives senior attorneys the power to start probes, inspect firms and sign off some financial products. It is currently common practice for officials in the enforcement division to issue subpoenas and negotiate settlements without commissioner participation, except in the biggest and most sensitive cases.

Piwowar had previously questioned whether the enforcement division has too much autonomy. In a 2013 speech he argued commissioners, which are politically appointed, should have more sway over formal investigations.

The group said there was no evidence SEC chair nominee Jay Clayton wants to change the agency’s course, and according to his testimony at his confirmation hearing, he had not been consulted about the change to enforcement policy.

Regardless of whether the SEC’s work on Piwowar’s order results in final action, agency staff will expend time and energy on these matters, the group said.

“Should Mr Clayton be confirmed and should he disagree with the policy changes persued by Piwowar, significant SEC staff work will have gone to waste,” the letter said.

Clayton, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to head up the commission following the depature of Mary Jo White, has passed all but the last stage of confirmation for the job. His appointment is now dependent on a vote by the full Senate, a date for which is yet to be set.

The senators signing the letter were Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Robert Mendez and Brian Schatz