New York (April 17, 2003) - If he could do it over, former President Bill Clinton said that he would have counseled against the Securities and Exchange Commission's compromise in 2000 with Republicans over the contentious issue of separating audit and consulting services, he said at the Conference Board's April 15 forum on restoring corporate integrity.

When interviewer Marvin Kalb asked Clinton what he could've done differently to prevent the wave of corporate accounting scandals that broke after he left office, Clinton said, "In retrospect, I have one regret. I would have counseled against the SEC compromise with Republicans and Congress."

Clinton referred to the heated battle between former SEC chief Arthur Levitt and Congress over Levitt's attempt to put a wall up between auditing and consulting, which Clinton said was opposed by Republicans in Congress at the time and culminated with a threat by a Republicans to cut the commission's funding. The result of the compromise was a watered-down version of Levitt's proposal that curbed the consulting services that accountants could provide to audit clients.

In hindsight, Clinton said he should have called their bluff and let them shut down the SEC. "We might have brought more exposure to what was essentially a private fight." Clinton also defended his administration's efforts to curb corporate abuses, which he said were ultimately blocked by Republicans. "Levitt was aggressive," said Clinton. "[Former Treasury Secretary Larry] Summers was aggressive. We got beat."

-- Melissa Klein

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