Bart Chilton, CFTC's Colorful Swaps-Rules Backer, Dies at 58

(Bloomberg) -- Bart Chilton, the former U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission official who called for tighter regulation of swaps and derivatives, and was known for his long blond hair that stood out in buttoned-down Washington, has died.

The TV channel RT America, for which Chilton hosted the show “Boom Bust,” announced the death late Saturday, citing an unspecified “sudden illness.” He was 58.

CFTC Chairman Chris Giancarlo tweeted that Chilton’s death was “sad news for all of us.” Terry Duffy, chief executive officer of CME Group Inc., one of the major futures exchanges regulated by the CFTC, said the former commissioner was “an enthusiastic advocate for the futures industry where he made many significant contributions during his tenure. Beyond that, he was a friend and colleague who will be missed greatly.”

Walt Lukken, a former CFTC commissioner and acting chairman who’s the chief executive officer of the Futures Industry Association, called Chilton “the David Lee Roth of the CFTC.”

Chilton, whose signature look included lengthy hair and, often, cowboy boots, was a critic of high-frequency trading, calling the firms “cheetahs” for their speed in markets. He cited some of the same risks Michael Lewis laid out in his book “Flash Boys” -- namely that high-frequency traders take advantage of other investors.

After leaving the CFTC he ended up advising high-frequency traders while working for the Modern Markets Initiative, a lobbying group founded in 2013 by four HFT firms.

Indiana to Washington

Chilton, born in Delaware and raised in Indiana, studied political science at Purdue University before working in various government roles starting with the Clinton administration, and on Capitol Hill.

He served as a senior adviser to Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate; deputy chief of staff to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman; and as chief of staff at the National Farmers Union, which represents family farmers, according to his CFTC biography.

“I am heartbroken at the loss of one my closest friends, confidants, and colleagues at USDA,” Glickman said in a statement. Chilton, he said, was a “rural America advocate, golfing buddy, and the best conversationalist I have ever met. Always upbeat and always looking to solutions to challenges and problems.”

Bush Nominee

Chilton was first nominated by President George W. Bush to one of the Democratic positions on the CFTC, and renominated by President Barack Obama. He served at the regulator from 2007 to 2014.

He chaired the commission’s Energy and Environmental Advisory and the Global Markets Advisory panels. Chilton was known to use song lyrics and other popular culture references to explain the impact of derivatives and commodity trading.

After leaving the CFTC he worked as a senior adviser at the law firm DLA Piper, counseling on regulatory and public policy matters and ultimately praising the “benefits of high-frequency trading” and advocating for the “right type of constructive regulation.”

In recent months, Chilton weighed in on the evolving landscape of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, commenting on how financial markets were being changed by technology. In March, he appeared in a video at Hong Kong Blockchain Week called “Blockchain Dreamers and the Properties of Bamboo.”

Chilton most recently wrote for Forbes magazine about cryptocurrencies, regulation and other topics. True to form, a January article about crypto used an extended analogy to the 1960s Clint Eastwood movie “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” He also hosted the financial and business show on RT America, which is part of the RT network funded by the Russian government.

“We remember his intelligence, his compassion, his joyful laughter. With his passing, nothing could fill the void in our newsroom, nor the space Bart held in our hearts,” Mikhail Solodovnikov, RT America’s news director, wrote on the network’s website.

Kirsten Wegner, chief executive officer of the Modern Markets Initiative, said of Chilton, “He was a force for good and for fairness -- and certainly one of a kind. Our thoughts are with his family on this sad day.”

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