By my count, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox must have stamped out at least another couple of brushfires over these recent summer months.
The former Congressman from California is now coming up on a year on the job, and in addition to solving the last of his agency's human resources concerns (including the recent selection of a new head of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board), it's become clear that Cox is as much capable regulator as he is public relations strategist. President Bush, trying to control his own approval ratings, might want to take a look at the SEC chief's skillful handling of everything from journalist subpoenas to stock option investigations.
Now, in an election year that's inching closer to the polls, some of the best political moves have been issued from the SEC. Plenty of press releases seem to be floating my way from politicians, full of snappy quotes and legislative bluster, as seemingly everyone in Washington leaps aboard one legislative bandwagon or another.
In contrast, out of seemingly nowhere, the SEC has begun to balances its work on mutual fund independence and the widespread adoption of Extensible Business Reporting Language with an initiative a little easier to grasp -- protecting that old tried and true voting block, senior citizens, from financial schemes.
This month, the SEC filed a complaint taking what its announcement called an " emergency enforcement action" to halt a New York-based real estate investment scheme that the agency said took at least $15 million from more than 275 investors since 1996, issuing false promissory notes in various real estate investment companies. Among those bilked investors, were many senior citizens, the agency said.
Of course, that emergency enforcement action went hand-in-hand with the promotion of the SEC's first ever Seniors Summit, organized with the end goal of examining how regulators can coordinate efforts to protect older Americans from investment fraud and abusive sales practices. Held on July 17, a study funded by the NASD Investor Education Foundation that explores why the elderly are so often the victims of fraud was also rolled out at the summit.
How's this for a sound bite?
"Today's older Americans are living longer and healthier, and therefore investing more, than any previous generation. That trend toward longevity is expected to continue. As a result, older Americans will be more vulnerable to financial fraud than ever before," Cox said, in a July 10 statement announcing the summit. "Those who would rob older Americans of their retirement nest eggs steal more than hopes and dreams -- they erode the trust on which our entire financial system and economy depend. That makes protecting seniors an urgent priority."
The SEC hasn't historically been a next-step launching pad for political careers. And, in fact, its last three chairman were all in the latter half of their careers after having made a mark in business and law. Cox, who started work in early August 2005, had represented Orange County, Calif., for 17 years in the House, after leaving a successful career as a securities lawyer in the 1980s, appears to be trying to break that moldI'll keep parsing between the lines of all those statement on simplifying business reporting, allowing Sarbanes-Oxley to fulfill its mission and reaching out to other countries attempting to bolster their international economies. Barely 12 months into the job, it appears Cox is eyeing a much larger voting block than just those interested in investor's rights. How deftly he handles his first public disagreement with major corporate interests -- whatever form it takes on any number of issues -- will go a long ways towards telling where exactly his next career stop might be.
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