AUSTIN, Texas -- So the new guy in charge of reforming the
accounting industry himself sat on the board of a company now being
investigated for fraud, and when that company's outside auditors
about accounting irregularities, he voted to fire them. This is just
Why don't we add Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers to the new
oversight board, as well?
It's not as though it weren't already painfully clear the
administration is both opposing and undermining all efforts to clean
corporate corruption, but do they really have to make a mockery of
The headline in The Wall Street Journal read, "Criticism
as Pitt Launches Probe of Himself." SEC chairman Harvey Pitt has just
himself immortal: Pitt, inventor of the self-probe. It sounds
This is obscene. Where are the big fish on this one? We
say of Bush in Texas, "He doesn't care about the topwaters." The
are the bitty fish that swim on the top of the pond; Bush always
the big fish that swim underneath.
Well, big fish, this is about your money. This is about
getting ripped off by institutionalized corporate corruption, and it
be cured by political spin. SEC chairman Harvey Pitt cannot pretend to
reformer and then immediately cave in to Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio,
represents the financial industry.
The painful matter of Oxley's campaign contributions from
financial industry has already been reported, but The New York Times
added an amusing itinerary of the junkets taken by the chairman of the
Financial Services Committee. The honorable chairman, his wife, his
staff and committee staff have been transported to Cape Cod,
Stockholm, Venice, New York, New Orleans, Boca Raton, Tucson and
meals and hotels included.
Of course, Oxley has reimbursed his generous hosts from
own PAC, 68 percent of which comes from ... his hosts' very own PACs.
only 56 percent of his contributions from individuals come from
and lobbyists for financial services.
This is not a case of "everybody does it." When Henry B.
Gonzalez was chairman of the House banking committee, he refused to
nickel from bankers.
People, our politics is a pigsty.
And why would President Bush and Dick Cheney not want to
up corporate sleaze? Because they (SET ITAL) are (END ITAL) corporate
sleaze. The latest chapter in the unfolding saga of Harken Energy,
Enron writ small, was unearthed by the Boston Globe. One week before
sold $848,000 of his Harken stock, Harken's board members were warned
their lawyers that they would face possible insider-trading charges if
unloaded their shares. The memo was not received by the SEC until the
after the agency (run by a friend of his daddy's) decided not to bring
insider-trading charges against Bush.
Let me point something about the state of ethics in this
country. Judge William Webster, the man who never should have been
the accounting oversight board, is by all accounts a man of
integrity," as they always say in Washington when they're being
man with solid-gold Establishment credentials, known to all the power
players and consequently above question.
Above question by whom? I'm sure that when Webster was on
audit committee of U.S. Technologies and decided to fire the
were questioning the books, he did not think to himself, "Holy cow,
got to cover up dishonest transactions before anyone finds out." He
thought the auditors were pettifogging about practices "everyone does"
that different auditors, say Arthur Andersen, wouldn't be so picky.
all, "our kind of people" don't do dishonorable things. But the net
for the company was still disaster and ruin.
Webster may or may not see that he has some responsibility
that -- it is not easy for any of us, especially those with a strong
of our own rectitude, to acknowledge error, much less base motive. But
kind of blind arrogance does it take to then accept a post overseeing
"reform" of the accounting industry? What kind of blind arrogance does
take for the accounting industry, with its record, to think it has a
to choose its own oversight board? What kind of blind arrogance did it
for Michael Oxley to call Harvey Pitt and pressure him to name
Another word for all this is denial. GeeDubya Bush to this
day thinks he did nothing wrong by unloading his Harken stock when he
the company was going under. He's not the kind of guy who would ever
five dollars out of a till just because he had the chance. There's a
difference, you see, between a business decision and dishonesty. You
that, don't you?
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by
Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators
page at www.creators.com.
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