Regulatory Reform “Doublethink”

What has happened to the promise of transparency and accountability?  According to a recent article in the New York Times, it has become a real-world example of “doublethink” – a term coined by George Orwell, the author of the famous novel 1984.  On the heels of one of the most serious financial crises of the past 100 years, the U.S. Congress is working against providing greater transparency and accountability.  Here is what the Times reported.

It took just five weeks after the WorldCom accounting scandal erupted in 2002 for Congress to pass, and President George W. Bush to sign, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. That law required public companies to make sure their internal controls against fraud were not full of holes. It took three more years for Bernard Ebbers, the man who built WorldCom into a giant, to be sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the fraud.

Mr. Ebbers will be 85 years old before he is eligible for release from prison. He may be freed, however, before the law is ever enforced on the vast majority of American companies. A Congressional committee voted this week to repeal a crucial part of the law. Other parts are also under attack. Sarbanes-Oxley was passed, almost unanimously, by a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate. Now a Democratic Congress is gutting it with the apparent approval of the Obama administration.

The House Financial Services Committee this week approved an amendment to the Investor Protection Act of 2009 — a name George Orwell would appreciate — to allow most companies to never comply with the law, and mandating a study to see whether it would be a good idea to exempt additional ones as well. Some veterans of past reform efforts were left sputtering with rage. “That the Democratic Party is the vehicle for overturning the most pro-investor legislation in the past 25 years is deeply disturbing,” said Arthur Levitt, a Democrat who was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under President Bill Clinton. “Anyone who votes for this will bear the investors’ mark of Cain.”

Restoring investor confidence in the financial system is the most effective path towards long-term economic recovery. These actions may remove a short-term burden from some companies, but the long-term impact to investor confidence will be severe – just ask the former stockholders of WorldCom.

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About Wheelhouse Advisors
Wheelhouse Advisors LLC is the publisher of The ERM Current™, an online publication and blog dedicated to providing the latest updates on current trends in Enterprise Risk Management & Control. Wheelhouse Advisors provides cost-effective Enterprise Risk Management & Control solutions to both large and mid-size corporations. To learn more about Wheelhouse Advisors, please visit our web site at www.WheelhouseAdvisors.com.

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