Four Senate Banking Dems Want Inquiry of Piwowar’s SEC Actions

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By Rob Tricchinelli

A group of Senate Banking Committee Democrats are asking the SEC’s internal watchdog to look into Dodd-Frank Act and enforcement moves made by the agency’s acting chairman, Michael Piwowar.

“We are concerned that Commissioner Piwowar’s actions may lack adequate justification, undermine the SEC’s mission, exceed his authority as Acting Chairman, violate other procedural requirements, and could potentially prove to be a waste of the SEC staff’s precious time and resources,” said a March 29 letter from Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) to SEC Inspector General Carl W. Hoecker.

The move foreshadows possible pushback from congressional Democrats if President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the SEC continues course on the enforcement regime or scaling back Dodd-Frank rules.

‘Acting’ Authority

Piwowar became acting chairman after Mary Jo White stepped down in January. Since then, Piwowar has begun an agency review of conflict mineral disclosure guidance and solicited new comments on an executive pay ratio disclosure rule, both part of Dodd-Frank.

He also reportedly narrowed enforcers’ ability to seek subpoenas by removing it from lower-level enforcement staff, as part of a broader analysis of that division’s structure. The senators said it is unclear “what evidentiary basis Commissioner Piwowar relied on for this significant restriction of the enforcement staff’s ability to hold companies accountable.”

A spokesman for Piwowar declined to comment.

The chairman sets the SEC’s agenda and generally doesn’t need other commissioners’ assent to initiate internal reviews and adjust agency-wide priorities. Specific rulemakings and enforcement decisions require the commission’s approval.

Piwowar’s status as acting chairman doesn’t limit his authority to steer the agency, but the Democrats still asked the inspector general to determine if he had a “valid substantive justification” for his actions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Tricchinelli in Washington at rtricchinelli@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Phyllis Diamond at pdiamond@bna.com; Seth Stern at sstern@bna.com

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