Jay Clayton, a former Wall Street lawyer who has headed the Securities and Exchange Commission as the financial markets’ top regulator during the Trump administration, is leaving the position at year’s end, the SEC announced Monday.
Clayton’s term runs through mid-2021. It is common practice for agency heads or cabinet members appointed under an outgoing administration to leave early. A new SEC chair is expected to be named by President-elect Joe Biden.
One of President Donald Trump’s earliest appointments in 2017, Clayton has presided over a deregulatory push to soften rules affecting Wall Street and the financial markets, as Trump pledged when he took office. Rules under the Dodd-Frank law that tightened the reins on banks and Wall Street in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis and the Great Recession have been nipped around the edges.
The market watchdog agency is politically independent from the administration. With two like-minded Republicans sitting as commissioners on the five-member SEC through most of his tenure, Clayton, an independent, also has eased rules for smaller companies raising capital in the market.
The moves have brought criticism from Democratic lawmakers as well as advocates for consumers and individual investors.
At the same time, Clayton set as a primary mission the protection of retail investors, leading a series of “town halls” with Main Street investors around the country. Hidden fees that can erode returns on retirement investments, for example, were an area of concern. Some restrictions on brokers and investment managers have been tightened under his tenure.
In announcing Clayton’s planned departure, the SEC cited new rules he shepherded to simplify how information is presented to individual investors, and strengthening of the agency’s inspection and enforcement programs.
Before his appointment, Clayton was a partner in the prominent law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, where he did significant legal work for Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs and other financial giants. That background led several Democratic senators to seek assurances from Clayton regarding potential conflicts of interest during his confirmation process.