Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, claims that US officials are pursuing him with “unrelenting investigation” due to his criticism of the government.
The billionaire claims in a court statement that the Securities and Exchange Commission has made “excessive efforts” to monitor the company, which “appear geared to limit his exercise” of free speech.
The letter adds to Mr Musk’s tussle with finance authorities over his social media behavior.
His tweets have the ability to affect markets.
As part of a settlement over charges that he deceived investors in 2018 with a tweet about taking Tesla private, the SEC ordered Mr Musk to subject to enhanced scrutiny of his Tesla postings in 2018.
Since then, the SEC has voiced concerns about Mr Musk breaking the deal, which required him to give Tesla authorities pre-approval of posts regarding the firm.
Regulators served the business with a subpoena in November, asking information on its governance practices in relation to the order.
Mr Musk asked his more than 70 million Twitter followers if he should sell 10% of his Tesla stock that month, sending the stock down.
The billionaire’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, accused regulators of “weaponizing the consent decree by utilizing it to try to gag and harass Mr. Musk and Tesla” in a letter to Judge Alison Nathan, who is supervising the 2018 deal.
He wrote on behalf of Mr Musk and Tesla, “The SEC appears to be targeting Mr. Musk and Tesla for persistent inquiry partly because Mr. Musk remains a vocal critic of the government.”
“Rather than enforcing generally applicable statutes in an even-handed manner, the SEC’s outsized efforts appear geared to limit his use of First Amendment rights.”
He said the SEC had launched “serial investigations” without getting court approval, and that the agency was delayed in distributing the $40 million in fines collected as part of the 2018 settlement to investors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) declined to comment.
Mr. Musk’s Twitter views on anything from Tesla to cryptocurrency have been known to influence market values.
He has exploited his position to criticize the SEC, claiming that the agency’s supervision is “broken.”
Mr Musk has also chastised US President Joe Biden for failing to acknowledge SpaceX or Tesla’s accomplishments, most recently referring to the president as a “damp [sock emoji] puppet.”
However, Professor James D Cox of Duke University, who teaches business and securities law, believes the SEC is reacting to Mr Musk’s choice to repeatedly defy a court order, rather than his other shenanigans.
According to him, executives at publicly traded corporations are obligated by standards controlling information dissemination.
“This isn’t about the SEC going after him,” he added. “They’re doing it because he’s defying the SEC’s order, which has the seal of approval from the federal court system.”
Tesla is now facing a racial discrimination complaint from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, as well as a safety investigation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.