The first time I came into contact with a chamber of commerce was to research a high school project on the rapid growth of business parks around my hometown on Long Island. The office agreed to let me speak to one of the associate directors, but I was limited to 10 minutes, as they implied their office had actual business to attend to, and it didn't entail patiently answering a 17-year-old's questions about the benefits of erecting scores of look-alike business centers on what were then relatively undeveloped tracts of land.I received boilerplate answers to most of my inquiries, but their position was, as best I can recall, that they welcomed all business that would serve to benefit the surrounding communities.
So it was with some personal skepticism that I read the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's proposals for the current regulatory framework that governs the country's financial markets advice on Sarbanes-Oxley.
A report from the chamber outlined a number of suggestions to the Securities and Exchange Commission, basically advising them to seek strategies that would modernize and reform the regulatory approach to the financial markets and investors. As an integral part of that, the COC paper proposes that the SEC consider potential costs to companies when writing new rules. It also suggested that the regulator be given "the flexibility" to address issues relating to the implementation of SOX by making the legislation part of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
To digest that implication, you must understand that by the nature of its mission statement, the COC has been one of the loudest critics of SOX, and one of those bodies questioning the constitutionality of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. It is no cheerleader for the SEC, either. In March 2006, it issued a report that claimed the SEC was overstepping its bounds in seeking to punish corporate wrongdoing.
On the other hand, the report also included some sage proposals. First and foremost was a call to cap auditor liability, in what the COC defined as a strategy to prevent a further contraction of the number of major accounting firms should another Enron-like scandal erupt.
It also put forth much-needed advice for employers to improve their workers' savings and retirement planning. One was to boost the number of retirement savings plans by directing businesses of 21 or more employees that don't have a retirement plan in place to a financial institution that will offer one. It also encouraged employers to sponsor retirement plans and introduce simpler, consolidated 401(k) programs.
The COC committee has put forth a mixed bag of proposals; some are certainly worth pursuing, while others were designed to serve larger interests.
Obviously there's been a quantum change in the business landscape since my first interview with the COC in 1973.
Back then, it was a lot easier to know which questions to ask.
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