U.S. Senate votes to confirm Jay Clayton as SEC chairman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm attorney Jay Clayton to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, the agency tasked with policing and writing rules for Wall Street.

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In a 61-37 vote, the Senate approved the nomination, with some moderate Democrats joining their Republican colleagues in supporting his confirmation.

Clayton could be officially sworn in as SEC chairman as soon as Thursday.

The White House still must complete some paperwork, including an action by President Trump to formally designate him as SEC chairman.

Clayton is a longtime partner at law firm Sullivan & Cromwell who specializes in advising clients on public and private mergers and acquisitions and capital-raising efforts.

Clayton worked on the initial public offering of Alibaba Group Holding Company, and has also represented Goldman Sachs, where his wife Gretchen works.

She is now expected to step down from her post, a move that will make it easier for her husband to mitigate potential conflicts of interest.

“I look forward to working closely with my fellow Commissioners and the dedicated career staff at the SEC to serve the American public and advance the SEC’s important mission,” Clayton said in a statement.

Many current and former SEC staffers are optimistic about Clayton’s leadership, and Clayton is expected to focus some of his efforts on looking for ways to ease regulatory burdens that might hinder companies from raising capital.

But in the debate leading up to the Senate vote on Tuesday, more progressive-leaning Democrats said they were concerned his close ties to Wall Street will create too many conflicts and may lead to weaker oversight.

“Mr. Clayton’s law firm and former clients will create a steady stream of conflicts for him, forcing him to recuse himself in cases involving former clients for two of the four years he could serve as chair,” said Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee.

“He will be sitting on the sidelines of potential enforcement actions against some of the biggest Wall Street banks - Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, and UBS,” he added.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, editing by G Crosse and Dan Grebler