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Former George W. Bush-era SEC commissioner Paul Atkins is heading Donald Trump's SEC transition and may himself become the agency's next commissioner. (Photo: Reuters)

After Railing Against 'Rigged' Economy, Trump Readies to Rig It Even More

A deregulation bonanza, benefiting Wall Street elites and corporations, is on deck for the Trump administration

Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

After running a campaign that blasted the "rigged" economy, President-elect Donald Trump appears set to rig it even further—in favor of corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which enforces a wide range of financial rules, will see major changes under the Trump administration, mostly in the form of slashed regulations.

"[T]here is an inherent contradiction between Donald Trump's anti-Wall Street rhetoric along with talk of 'draining the swamp' to make the government work for the people, and his likely Wall Street appointments to run big government agencies that regulate the financial sector to protect regular Americans."
—Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen

"Trump's decision to tap former Republican SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins to help manage the Trump team's transition efforts at the SEC and other financial agencies offers a window into some other changes that could be in store," according to the news agency, which noted: "Atkins' well-known conservative views on everything from enforcement penalties to corporate governance are likely to be reflected in the SEC's agenda."

A new rule requiring companies to disclose the pay ratio between their CEO and median employee—established by Dodd-Frank and set to go into effect on January 1, 2017—is "on the chopping block," says Reuters, along with the SEC's conflict minerals rule, which aims to establish whether companies source minerals from war-torn regions of Africa.

Also "dead for now," the outlet writes, "is any prospect of the SEC approving a tough fiduciary rule for financial advisers." The Department of Labor (DOL) this year issued its own version of the rule, seeking to protect retirement savers from Wall Street brokers by requiring that financial professionals who service individual retirement accounts to place clients' interests above their own. The SEC's version would apply to brokers and investment advisers providing personalized investment advice of any sort.

The GOP has been attempting to dismantle the DOL's rule since its inception, without success. But Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) told a gathering of mutual fund company representatives earlier this year that electing a Republican president would offer "a great chance to overturn some of this stuff." And on the day after the election, at least one financial adviser said Trump's win "puts DOL fiduciary in play."

"I am confident that our Republican-led Congress and President Trump will work together to end this egregious rule," Rep. Ann Wagner (R.-Mo.) told the Wall Street Journal this week.

Reuters added that under Trump's SEC, corporate whistleblowers "could face more hurdles" while corporate penalties could "shrink."

Indeed, the WSJ separately reported last week that "Atkins became an outspoken critic of the [SEC]'s approach to cracking down on corporate misdeeds through large penalties against firms that agreed to settle fraud charges."

"Proponents argue that large financial penalties deter companies from engaging in illegal behavior," the WSJ wrote. "But Mr. Atkins maintains they punish shareholders who already have been victimized by a company's fraud, further damaging the value of corporate shares."

Atkins "is a guy in general who wants to let companies do their thing and not get in the way very much," Ian Katz, a financial policy analyst with the research firm Capital Alpha Partners, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. "You would see a lighter touch on enforcement and a lighter hand on corporate governance issues broadly."

In her searing take-down of Trump's "drain the swamp" rhetoric on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) named Atkins specifically—along with former Bear Stearns chief economist David Malpass and former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive Steve Mnuchin—as among the "slew of Wall Street bankers, industry insiders, and special interest lobbyists" the president-elect has elevated to his transition team. 

"Quite frankly," Warren wrote, "the makeup of your transition team suggests that you will not only be 'letting Wall Street get away with murder' during your presidency—you will be letting them write the rules that allow them to get away with it."

As Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, said on Tuesday: "[T]here is an inherent contradiction between Donald Trump's anti-Wall Street rhetoric along with talk of 'draining the swamp' to make the government work for the people, and his likely Wall Street appointments to run big government agencies that regulate the financial sector to protect regular Americans."


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