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Washington Wrap — Regulators unveil CRA rewrite; Dems slam SEC over fake letters

The Washington Wrap is a weekly recap of financial regulation, news and chatter from around the capital. Send tips and ideas to polo.rocha@spglobal.com, david.hood@spglobal.com and declan.harty@spglobal.com.

At the FDIC

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. voted 3-1 to advance two proposed rules: one that would fundamentally change bank compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act, and another that would alter definitions of brokered deposits.

The FDIC, in conjunction with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, proposed a new framework that aims to clarify what counts for CRA credit and how to measure a bank's CRA activity.

The FDIC proposal to revamp brokered deposits redefines what a "deposit broker" is and creates a new process for entities to apply for exemptions. Generally, the rule specifies that individuals are deemed deposit brokers if they are "engaged in the business of placing deposits" on behalf of third parties.

Both rules are subject to a 60-day public comment period.

At the SEC

Two senators grilled SEC Chairman Jay Clayton on Capitol Hill this week over a series of suspicious letters he used as proof that retail investors were clamoring for changes to the U.S. proxy process.

The SEC rolled out a number of proposals in early November that, if ultimately enacted, would represent significant reforms to the plumbing that undergirds how shareholder votes are cast at companies' annual meetings and how proxy advisory firms craft their reports.

At the time, Clayton said mom-and-pop investors including an Army veteran, a retired teacher and a single mom had written into the SEC encouraging the agency to pursue such reforms. But those letters turned out to be part of a marketing campaign from a special-interest group backed by a number of large corporations, according to a report from Bloomberg.

That has since prompted an investigation into the letters at the SEC's Office of Inspector General, Clayton said during a Dec. 10 hearing.

"If you're basing decisions on comments and public interactions that end up being fueled by corporate advocacy groups, that, I think, is a problem," Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said during the hearing.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., went further with his questioning of Clayton's remarks later in the hearing. He urged Clayton to retract his statements, saying he has never once heard from retail investors about concerns regarding the proxy process.

"You got duped when you rolled out that statement," Van Hollen said. "Mr. Chairman, the letters you cited were orchestrated by a dark-money group that is funded by many of the corporations that stand to benefit from your proposal. You became their mouthpiece."

Clayton declined to offer lawmakers any specific details about the probe. However, the SEC chairman acknowledged that the proposed reforms have not yet been finalized and that he remains open to discussing tailoring those changes further. Clayton went on to encourage retail investors to reach out directly and share their thoughts on the proposals with the SEC.

At the Fed

At its last meeting of the year, the Federal Reserve took a break from its three consecutive rate cuts this year and signaled little rush to change interest rates again in the future.

Fed officials said in their post-meeting statement that the "current stance of monetary policy is appropriate to support sustained expansion of economic activity." Their quarterly projections also indicated that a broad majority of Fed officials are leaning toward keeping their benchmark rate unchanged in 2020.

The Fed's economic outlook "remains a favorable one" despite continued risks that include slower global growth and trade policy uncertainty, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told reporters at a Dec. 11 news conference.

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