Transmitted: August 12, 2021
To: Office of FOIA Services
Re: SEC Officials’ Potential Conflict of Interest In Promoting Certain Cryptocurrencies
Empower Oversight submitted a detailed FOIA request to the SEC seeking communications between SEC officials and their current and former employers. From May 2017 to December 2020, senior SEC official William Hinman reportedly participated in the SEC’s regulation of cryptocurrencies while receiving millions of dollars from his former employer, the law firm Simpson Thacher. Simpson Thacher is a part of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, an industry organization whose objective is to drive the use of Enterprise Ethereum. Hinman, while in his capacity at the SEC, declared that the Ethereum cryptocurrency, Ether, was not a security, causing its value to rise significantly.
Later, the SEC sued one of Ethereum’s competitors, Ripple, declaring its cryptocurrency, XRP, was a security. Shortly thereafter, XRP’s value plummeted 25%. After Hinman left the SEC in December of 2020, he returned to Simpson Thacher as a partner. The leader of the SEC division that brought the XRP lawsuit, Marc Berger, similarly left the SEC for Simpson Thacher.
Additionally, there are potential concerns regarding former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton’s handling of cryptocurrency issues at SEC. As with Mr. Hinman and Ether, while at the SEC, Mr. Clayton declared that Bitcoin wasn’t a security, and its value rose. The SEC’s lawsuit against Ripple was filed at the end of Mr. Clayton’s tenure at the commission. Once he left the SEC, Mr. Clayton joined One River Asset Management, a cryptocurrency hedge fund exclusively focused on Bitcoin and Ether.
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