Dear President Bush and Senators:
You now have a historic opportunity to do what you know the American people want you to do: Appoint and confirm the best person in the United States to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, the body charged by law to protect investors and maintain the integrity of the public markets.
Let me point out the blindingly obvious: People do not trust the markets, and they don't trust the people you have appointed thus far to protect them.
As The Motley Fool (www.Fool.com) has noted, this appointment is not about politics. It's not about whether one party favors "big business" more than the other. It's about doing right by the 50% of Americans like me who are part-owners of American business -- big and small. It's about making absolutely certain that we are protected from corporate thieves by enforcement both certain and swift.
Here's your chance. Don't make a decent appointment, or even a good one. Make an insanely great one. Make one so fantastic that it angers some of your friends and surprises your harshest critics. Appoint someone with a reputation for independence, intelligence, experience, fairness, and managerial competence. Tap someone who will work tirelessly to ensure auditor independence and address analyst conflict of interest, and nominate a sterling leader to head the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.
Name a cop on the beat who truly deserves to wear the uniform, who makes the neighborhood, not its tormentors, feel safe.
Some possibilities? John Biggs, the TIAA-CREF president originally approached for the top spot of the oversight board; Lynn Turner, the former SEC chief accountant who now heads the Center for Corporate Governance at Colorado State University; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a tough former prosecutor (He may not know his way around financial statements, but I'll bet he has the smarts to hire those who do). Why not Eliot Spitzer, the New York state attorney general who has led the way to restore investor confidence in his state?
Once you've made and confirmed that appointment, don't stop there. Give your choice the budget to succeed. Only the right choice with the right resources can re-invigorate the SEC staff and return individual investors' faith in the integrity of the public markets -- faith necessary if we are to continue to invest in American business for our future.
Presidents of both parties have sparred with SEC chiefs since the day of its founding in the depths of the Great Depression. A strong chairman will bring you news you don't want to hear and take actions you oppose. Expect it, and choose someone who will do so surely, thoroughly, responsibly, and justly.
It might just be smart politics, too.
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