SEC head ready to rebuild

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

WASHINGTON -- President Bush promised Tuesday that the newly installed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission would lead "an active and energetic agency" to rebuild investor confidence shattered by last year's wave of corporate scandals.

William H. Donaldson, 71, replaces Harvey Pitt, who resigned under fire in early November after a series of high-profile political missteps.

"He's the right man at the right time," Bush said at the swearing-in ceremony, adding that Donaldson "will lead an active and energetic agency."

The SEC has expanded powers and new rules under legislation enacted by Congress last summer to combat corporate fraud, enhance accountability and tighten oversight of the scandal-tainted accounting industry.

Donaldson, a Bush family friend and former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, pledged to restore integrity to the commission.

"We will hold accountable all those who will have violated the public trust," he said. "We will demand responsible corporate governance through the business and financial world. We will strengthen our market structure, making the markets more efficient, more transparent and friendlier to all investors."

Bush has asked Congress for an $841 million budget for the agency in 2004, marking a 48 percent increase over this year -- the largest jump in its history -- as it investigates and prosecutes a heavy load of corporate fraud and accounting deception. The new spending would allow the SEC to hire 710 new lawyers, accountants and examiners, bringing its total to 3,875.

The SEC has been led by a lame-duck Pitt since early November. He was forced to resign after a flap over his selection of former FBI Director William Webster to head a new board overseeing the accounting industry. Webster also resigned.

Bush also made another pitch for his plan to eliminate the dividend tax at a cost of $385 billion.

"Our laws should not discriminate against those companies that focus on stable, long-term growth," he said. "Eliminating the double-taxation dividends is good for American investors. It's good for American seniors. It's good for corporate reform."

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