Sunday morning TV programming has never been much of an allure for me. That’s not to say that there aren’t important shows dotting the grid on the morning of the Sabbath, but I’d much rather spend time trying to improve my crosscourt forehand than listening to the usual Capitol Hill suspects pontificating on the issues of the day.
However, breaking from tradition, I did manage to catch a recent installment of "This Week," which had Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Harvey Pitt as a guest in a show titled "Crises in Corporate America."
In a former life, Pitt used to work for the accounting industry as a private securities lawyer, and, as a result, has been accused of remaining beholden to that industry. He has been called everything from "the reluctant regulator" to, most likely, other monikers which cannot appear in print.
But the reluctant regulator sounded more like a combination of Dirty Harry and Serpico as he pledged his agency’s full resources to battle the influx of corporate accounting fraud that has garnered massive headlines over the past weeks.
To the alleged perpetrators of fraud at telecommunications concern WorldCom, Pitt vowed that "people will pay heavily" if fraud is detected in his agency’s report.
Meanwhile, Pitt said that the SEC is "not finished" with Xerox, which may have improperly booked roughly $6.4 billion in revenue. He pointed out that the SEC will spotlight those who were involved in the improper bookkeeping.
And, answering charges that his agency is soft on corporate fraud, Pitt maintained that he would even pursue vice president Dick Cheney if an SEC investigation at oil field company Halliburton — which Cheney used to head — uncovered any wrongdoing.
The SEC has already launched an investigation into Halliburton, specifically looking into the booking of about $100 million in cost overruns as revenue. Now that would be more than interesting, to have the regulator pursue the second-highest man in the administration that appointed Pitt.
"I head an independent regulatory agency," said Pitt.
Pitt sounded sincere in his Sunday morning sound bite.
But how effective or ineffective the SEC is in its stance against the recent spate of corporate fraud will either be the defining moment, or the Waterloo of his tenure as SEC chair.
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