Bush Nominates Californian to Head SEC

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA) has been nominated by President Bush to be the new Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Cox succeeds Williams Donaldson, who stepped down yesterday, six months earlier than expected. Donaldson had been under constant attack from Republican and business interests.

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President Bush today named Republican Congressman Christopher Cox to be the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. If confirmed by the Senate, he'll replace William Donaldson, who abruptly announced his resignation yesterday. Cox is a 54-year-old fiscal conservative from Orange County, California. He once worked in the Reagan White House. And he'll come to the agency at a time when it's under pressure from business to change some of the regulations passed after the Enron scandal. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI reporting:

President Bush lost no time in naming a new SEC chairman. Barely 24 hours after Donaldson announced he was quitting, the president appeared at the White House alongside Cox. He said Donaldson had done an exceptional job running the SEC after the big corporate scandals, and Cox was the right man to carry on the job.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Chris understands how markets work. And he knows the need for transparency in financial exchanges and in the halls of business. He proved that he can bring people together of diverse opinions to get things done. That kind of leadership will be invaluable as the chairman of the SEC.

ZARROLI: For his part, Cox said the United States has the most dynamic and vibrant capital markets in the world, in part because of clear and consistent securities laws. And he said those laws must apply to everyone, big and small.

Representative CHRISTOPHER COX (Republican, California): In this amazing world of instant global communications, the free and efficient movement of capital is helping to create the greatest prosperity in human history. The natural enemies of this economic marvel are fraud and unfair dealing.

ZARROLI: Cox is a telegenic Harvard-trained securities lawyer with impeccable supply-side credentials. He has been seen as a key player in Congress since the Republican takeover of 1994. On issues, he has roamed far and wide, from homeland security to human rights in China to lawsuit reform. Dan Rohrabacher serves with Cox in the California Republican congressional delegation.

Representative DANA ROHRABACHER (Republican, California): Chris Cox is one of the most respected members of the delegation for his intelligence and his commitment to ideals. But he's also well-known for being a guy, as I say, who reads the fine print, the small print, and gets really into the details.

ZARROLI: Even some of Cox's critics acknowledge he is qualified to be SEC chairman.

Ms. BARBARA ROPER (Consumer Federation of America): He's really smart. He's extremely knowledgeable. He's very high-energy. He's a big-idea person.

ZARROLI: Barbara Roper is director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America. She says there's no telling what kind of chairman Cox will be. She says William Donaldson, for one, turned out to be a more aggressive reformer than anyone anticipated. But Roper says there is much in Cox's record that concerns her. For instance, he was involved in passing a 1995 bill aimed at stopping frivolous lawsuits. Roper says it made it harder for shareholders to sue companies.

Ms. ROPER: The Private Securities Litigation Act is one of the most anti-investor bills to have passed Congress in the last two decades. And he not just voted for it, he helped to write it.

ZARROLI: Roper says Cox has also been a big opponent of a measure requiring companies to record stock options as expenses, a bill that's popular with many corporate governance experts but opposed by most companies, especially in the high-tech industry. On the other hand, Cox supported the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which imposed tough new auditing and management requirements on publicly traded companies. Right now, business groups have been exerting growing pressure on the SEC to tone down some of the act's requirements. What's unclear now is how far Cox will go in responding to those concerns. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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