I was interested to hear Harvey Pitt on ‘Meet the Press’ Sunday. I don’t profess to be a Harvey Pitt expert, but I do have two data points to offer.
The first comes from Susan Strausberg, CEO of Edgar Online, one of the main private sources for S.E.C. data. (You can get info direct from the S.E.C., but you get it friendlier from these private sites.) She says Pitt has been terrific on corporate disclosure issues – making information available to the marketplace promptly. This is good.
The second involves this snippet from ‘Meet the Press’:
RUSSERT: ‘…Why would the chairman of the SEC, the man in charge of being tough in overseeing the securities industry, meet with people who had claims, investigations ongoing before the SEC?”
PITT: “Tim, we meet with a lot of people. We meet with the folks from the Consumer Federation of America. We meet with representatives of many investment groups. The chairman of the SEC has to know what’s going on in the real world.”
Well, I happened to be speaking with the head of the Consumer Federation of America the next day – yesterday – and asked him about this. He half laughed, half moaned, and said that, well, yes, Mr. Pitt had come to their conference and given a speech – but that was it. If this is his idea of how to listen to real-world concerns, or his idea of how to persuade us that the S.E.C. has weighed the input of consumer advocates, he may need to refine his technique.
Senators Sarbanes and McCain followed Pitt. Both were good. Interestingly, the Republican, John McCain, has called for Pitt’s resignation, while Paul Sarbanes, the Democrat, takes a more nuanced view:
SARBANES: Well, I think it’s clear from his comments he’s not going to resign. The president is supporting him. To get a new chairman would take us months. I think the test of Pitt is going to be on what he does, and he has to sort of get with the program. . . . The real question with Harvey Pitt—Harvey Pitt was the youngest general counsel in SEC history when he went to work there right out of law school. So he’s an extremely able and competent person. The question is, is whether the Harvey Pitt who was the youngest general counsel of the SEC is now going to manifest himself, or whether we’re going to have a Harvey Pitt, who, in private practice for many years, represented the accounting interests and many other companies that are impacted by SEC action. And there’s a mixed bag of that. I mean, he’s done some very strong, positive things. He’s been slow to pick up on other things, but I think he needs to move with the program.
Arthur Levitt was such a good SEC chairman. Too bad his proposed accounting reforms were blocked so effectively by folks representing the accounting industry – like Harvey Pitt.
And speaking of talent, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers were such good Treasury Secretaries. Their counsel was to be conservative with the projected surpluses and use them, largely, if they materialized, to “Save Social Security first” – i.e., pay down debt. Too bad we are now back to deficits as far as the eye can see, borrowing ever more from our kids’ and grandkids’ future, as we did so massively under Reagan/Bush.
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