The folks overseeing the editorial page at the Wall Street Journal haven't been kind to the regulators and overseers of the accounting profession and capital market systems of late.
In a recent searing analogy, an editorial compared American Institute of CPAs' chief executive Barry Melancon's part in accounting reform as comparable to that of promoter Don King's with regard to boxing reform.
I’ll be somewhat fairer to the folks at 1211 Avenue of the Americas. For me, who often is ashamed to admit in mixed company that I am a boxing fan, I’ll tell you for the record, there is no such thing as boxing reform. Accounting reform, however, is another matter. And that should be far more cause for concern.
The latest figure to come into the Journal’s opinion page crosshairs is Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Harvey Pitt.
Pitt, whose partiality, or rather perceived inability to be impartial, was called into question at the time of his nomination by George W. Bush — due to the fact he has represented many of the Big Five firms and the AICPA in his former life as a securities lawyer — has been saddled with such unflattering monikers as "the reluctant regulator."
Well, the reluctant regulator has gotten into a skirmish that has done little to allay fears he can be tough on companies that are essentially, former clients.
It seems that newly ratified KPMG chairman, Eugene O’Kelley, had a meeting with Pitt where allegedly, the subject of the ongoing SEC investigation into KPMG’s audit of copy conglomerate Xerox came up. Pitt denied the tandem discussed his agency’s probe into the Big Five firm, while O’Kelley documented the event in an internal email and stands behind its accuracy.
Like the classic Japanese movie "Rashomon" where an event is retold through several points of view, it matters little whether O’Kelley or Pitt recalls the incident with greater clarity.
What matters is that the flap has again sparked concerns regarding Pitt to spearhead accounting reform and subsequently restore investor faith.
It’s a lot like a politician who, when confronted with evidence of wrongdoing or at worst, colossal bad judgment, calmly says, "Well I was conducting my own investigation."
But when a rather conservative publication like the Journal, which has been a spirited cheerleader for the free market system, begins to openly criticize key oversight figures in that same system, you have reason to be more than a little concerned.
This space has been supportive of Pitt and urged naysayers to give him the benefit of the doubt and see where he lands a year into the job.
However, any more incidents like KPMG will more than likely land Pitt back into private practice.
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