A coalition of progressive groups plans to announce Monday a campaign to derail President Trump’s nomination of Jay Clayton to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, targeting Clayton’s close connections to Wall Street.
The campaign, which organizers say will include a six-figure digital advertising buy, comes amid broader efforts by Democrats to highlight Trump’s choice of financial industry insiders for key administration positions despite his anti-Wall Street rhetoric as a Republican presidential candidate.
As chairman of the SEC, Clayton would help police many of the same large banks he has spent decades representing as a lawyer, including Goldman Sachs and Barclays. The position requires Senate confirmation, but past nominees typically have not sparked much controversy.
“Expecting us to believe that Clayton, Wall Street’s lawyer, will adequately police some of the very banks he has represented is an insult to the American people’s intelligence,” said Jeff Weaver, president of Our Revolution, a group that grew out of the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “We refuse to stand by as this administration continues to rig the system against the working families of this country.”
Other organizations involved in the coalition to oppose Clayton include Allied Progress, Take on Wall Street, the Center for Popular Democracy and Public Citizen.
Besides the digital advertising campaign, the coalition has set up a website that describes Clayton as “Wall Street’s bailout attorney” and is planning a “national day of action” to highlight what it sees as his conflicts of interest in taking the SEC position.
When Trump announced his intention to nominate Clayton in January, he said the Sullivan and Cromwell partner is “a highly talented expert on many aspects of financial and regulatory law, and he will ensure our financial institutions can thrive and create jobs while playing by the rules at the same time.”
Clayton’s supporters have said criticism of his connections to Wall Street is misplaced.
Bill McLucas, a securities lawyer with WilmerHale who spent eight years as SEC enforcement chief, said in January that Clayton’s “reputation is he is incredibly smart, incredibly talented and with deep experience in corporate governance.” It would be “a mistake to think lawyers that have labored in this area are somehow tainted in their judgment,” McLucas said.
Others with close Wall Street ties that Trump has looked at for his administration include former Goldman Sachs partner Steve Mnuchin, confirmed last month as treasury secretary; Goldman managing director Jim Donovan, who is under strong consideration to fill the No. 2 position at the Treasury Department; Goldman alumnus Stephen K. Bannon, who is Trump’s chief political strategist in the White House; former Goldman president Gary Cohn, who heads the National Economic Council and has growing clout inside the administration on a range of issues; and Goldman alumnus Dina Powell, a White House economic strategist.
As a candidate, Trump lumped Wall Street in with Washington as part of a “corrupt” system he pledged to fight on behalf of everyday Americans. Wall Street scenes were prominently featured in an ad his campaign aired in the closing days of the race.
Renae Merle contributed to this report.