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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Donald Trump was president when SPACs stopped being a cottage industry and instead became Wall Street waterfront. Now he might be indirectly responsible for reining in some SPAC excesses.

Driving the news: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Wednesday sent a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission chair Gary Gensler, asking his agency to investigate the proposed merger between Trump's amoebic social media company and a SPAC called Digital World Acquisition Corp.

  • She’s particularly interested in a NY Times report that Digital World’s chair and CEO Patrick Orlando held talks with Trump before the SPAC filed for its IPO in May or priced it in September. Those discussions apparently were related to a proposal that Axios scooped in April.
  • SPAC sponsors are not allowed to source potential merger targets prior to the SPAC going public, and DWAC made multiple representations in its IPO filings that its executives had followed the rules.
  • DWAC, currently valued at nearly $2 billion, may try to argue that DWAC didn't exist when Orlando talked with Trump, thus it couldn't have done anything untoward. But that may be a tough legal hill to climb, since Orlando did have other active SPACs (particularly if there's any paper trail linking the Trump opportunity to DWAC's creation).

What DWAC is alleged to have done is not unusual in SPAC-land. In fact, it's the industry's dirty little secret that many SPAC sponsors, particularly serial ones like Orlando, source deals before they're technically supposed to.

  • Securities regulators so far have turned a blind eye to the practice, which corrupts the legitimacy of being a blank check company.

The bottom line: Warren's letter, and the NY Times investigation on which it's based, may shine a spotlight that's impossible for the SEC to ignore. And if there is a crackdown, it could impact lots of SPACs that have nothing to do with Donald Trump or his social media dreams.

Get smarter, faster on SPACs and going public with our free, three-video short course.

Go deeper

Biden administration makes first move on data privacy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Biden administration is launching its first big effort on privacy policy by looking at how data privacy issues affect civil rights.

Why it matters: An administration perspective on privacy policy could be key in developing a long-awaited national privacy law by putting the White House stamp on how to regulate privacy.

Axios Investigates

Exclusive: Airbnb hosts Xinjiang rentals on land owned by sanctioned group

Data: Axios research, Airbnb, Australia Strategic Policy Institute's International Cyber Policy Centre; Map: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Airbnb has more than a dozen homes available for rent in China's Xinjiang region on land owned by an organization sanctioned by the U.S. government for complicity in genocide and forced labor, an Axios investigation has found.

Why it matters: The listings expose Airbnb to regulatory risk under U.S. law. They also land yet another American tech company in the crossfire between the U.S. and China.

For CEOs, social media has lost its fun

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

CEO Jack Dorsey's departure from Twitter shows that, in Silicon Valley today, social media is becoming a field to flee.

Why it matters: Coming on the heels of Facebook's name change and new metaverse focus, Dorsey's resignation is another sign that the industry now views the massive social networks it built over the last two decades as buggy "legacy applications" mired in annoying social problems.

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