Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sarbanes-Oxley Battle Shapes Up

Stock quotes in this article: BAC , C , FNM , FRE , MS , GS

An interesting legal battle is shaping up in the Supreme Court that could invalidate most or all of the Sarbanes-Oxley law, which is intended to make all public companies better at overseeing their internal accounting.

The main issue has to do with the governance structure of the board of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), which was set up at the time the law was passed in 2002 to oversee its successful implementation.

The plaintiffs argue that the PCAOB's board is not accountable enough and must allow for the president to appoint members to the board. Because this is currently not allowed, they argue the whole Sarbanes-Oxley law must be struck down.

Ironically, many companies who support this effort to strike down Sarbanes-Oxley (due to the higher costs of internal accounting oversight), also support blocking their own shareholders from having more of a say on who gets appointed to their own board of directors. What's good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander.

Sarbanes-Oxley's legislation, especially section 404, has been a bugaboo of business -- especially small business -- since its inception. Recall that the law was passed in the wake of the major scandals like Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, Parmalat, and others during the dot-com bubble.

At the time, President Bush and other politicians expressed outrage that so many large and well-known companies could have so easily perpetuated accounting fraud for so long, with no consequences -- until they were forced into the light. Most of these companies went under and, with them, the pensions and 401Ks of many hard-working and innocent executives and employees.

[This excerpt is only the first quarter of the article. To read the entire article on, click here.]

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