Exclusive: SEC officials' holdings, legal work, pose potential conflicts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two lawyers appointed to senior jobs at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have ties to major companies including financial firms Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N and Wells Fargo & Co WFC.N that could complicate efforts to regulate them, according to government documents viewed by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO - A view of the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S. on July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Steven Peikin, the new co-head of enforcement at the SEC, held as much as $9 million worth of stock in dozens of blue-chip companies as of Aug. 8, according to a disclosure filing obtained through a public records request.

Among them are several large financial firms whose shares Peikin plans to divest, including Goldman, JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N, Citigroup Inc C.N and Intercontinental Exchange Group Inc ICE.N, according to the filing.

He did not indicate plans to offload holdings in non-financial companies such as Apple Inc AAPL.O and General Electric Co GE.N.

Peikin also said in paperwork filed with the Office of Government Ethics that he or his former employer, law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, represented several big banks during his time there.

In a separate filing, William Hinman, the SEC’s director of corporate finance, said his former law firm, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, represented big banks as well as technology companies.

Should those companies come before the SEC, potential conflicts of interest could arise.

Having such conflicts is not unusual for senior SEC officials, whose stints at the agency are often bookended by private sector roles. The SEC has stricter rules than other government institutions about conflicts, and a detailed guide on how to handle them during and after roles at the agency.

“Steve and Bill are subject to and complying with all applicable ethics laws, rules, and regulations, and both are working with the agency’s ethics counsel as needed,” SEC spokeswoman Judith Burns said in a statement.

Peikin and Hinman had no further comment beyond the SEC’s statement.

Peikin is co-head of enforcement alongside Stephanie Avakian, allowing him to recuse himself from matters that present conflicts.

Thomas Sporkin, a partner at Buckley Sandler LLP, who previously led the SEC’s Office of Market Intelligence, said that having two enforcement chiefs is “incredibly valuable” to avoid conflicts while ensuring a senior official is involved with important cases.

Conflicts of interest have long been a point of contention between those who argue the SEC benefits from hiring people with real-world experience, and critics who say the revolving door makes it impossible to regulate effectively.

That debate has heightened under U.S. President Donald Trump, who has stocked his administration with former business executives, and pledged to slash regulations. In July, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, who is also a former corporate lawyer, outlined ways he plans to do that at the SEC.

“Their careers have been representing the industry that they’re now supposed to regulate and they’re going to bring to the job the mindset of the regulated parties,” Robert Weissman, president of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen. “Their orientation is serving Wall Street, not the public.”


Peikin, 51, and Hinman, 62, are two of the most prominent appointments by Clayton, who faced questions from lawmakers about his own conflicts of interest during a confirmation hearing in March.

While at Sullivan & Cromwell, Peikin represented Goldman and Barclays PLC BARC.L in investigations involving sanctions violations, rate manipulation and insider trading.

The firm also provided services to JPMorgan, U.S. Bancorp USB.N and Wells Fargo & Co WFC.N while he was there. The SEC is one of several authorities probing Wells Fargo over sales practices that harmed consumers.

Peikin said in his disclosure form confidentiality obligations prevented him from disclosing the identity of 18 other former clients, five of whom are the subject of “pending non-public government investigations.”

Hinman said his former law firm performed work for Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Facebook Inc FB.O CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

While he was there, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett also represented Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd BABA.N as well as its affiliate ANT Financial Services Group, which is seeking regulatory approval for a planned purchase of U.S. money transfer company Moneygram International Inc MGI.O.

Stephen Cohen, the director of Palantir Technologies, which signed a contract worth more than $43 million with the SEC in 2015, was another firm client during Hinman’s employment. The contract was for five years, with years two through five being optional, an SEC spokeswoman told Reuters at the time.

Reporting by Pete Schroeder, additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Diane Craft