Arthur Levitt, Former SEC Chairman

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, October 7, 2002, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Arthur Levitt is serious about cracking down on corporate corruption. And now that he's out of public office, he's speaking a bit more freely about the shenanigans on Wall Street. The former SEC chairman has come out with a new tell-all book called Take on the Street: What Wall Street and Corporate America Don't Want You to Know. Earlier, I spoke with Mr. Levitt, and asked about all of these abuses and corporate run-ups that began under the Clinton watch.


ARTHUR LEVITT, FMR. SEC CHAIRMAN: You know, I brought the biggest case ever brought by the commission against Prudential Securities. We had the biggest settlement ever. That happened under Richard Breeden's watch. Richard Breeden brought the Milken case that happened under John Shad's Watch. Every commission, every regulating agency has cases that will be developed and then go on to his successor. Our commission was the most investor-friendly commission in history. We brought more cases of financial fraud than any commission before, and we put down a marker as to what should be done about the accountants…

CAVUTO: But did you find it odd, Mr. Levitt, that you were working in the administration that talked up the bull market, the strong market, never questioned the earnings and multiples or the fact that you had stocks that were based on 1000 times nothing? Not once did we hear that out of the president. Never once did he bemoan the bull market. And now coming back and second guessing?

LEVITT: I do not think presidents should deal with markets. I don't think presidents should opine on where stocks are selling or on accounting rules as President Bush has done.

CAVUTO: But when they take it as a verdict on the success of the administration, is that just as offensive?

LEVITT: That's politics, that's not the job of the SEC.

CAVUTO: Did you ever tell President Clinton, "This ain't right."

LEVITT: I never met President Clinton alone until the day before he left office…

CAVUTO: You were eight years in office, that was it?

LEVITT: First time I met him alone together. And I said to him, "Why didn't you meet with me more often?" It was lucky he didn't because that would have involved interference. I said, "Did you consider me like a postmaster in Little Rock?" He said, "No." He said, "With you and Bob Rubin and Gene Sperling, I knew what you did before and I had confidence in you and I trusted you." That is a heck of an endorsement. That is a lot better than a president who might be sending aides into the agency to watch over you.

CAVUTO: I realize that, Mr. Levitt, I have enormous respect for you. But by the same token, I would say, hey, if you are looking at all these potential accounting abuses, the pot was bubbling… You were well respected. You were a close confidant, the Clinton people loved you. You could have called and said, "Mr. President, we have got a tempest in teapot here. I demand a one-on-one meeting."

LEVITT: To what purpose? I didn't need the president of the United States to address this issue. We addressed it by bringing cases.

CAVUTO: Well, it would have carried a little bit more oomph with that, don't you think?

LEVITT: We think we had a lot of oomph, if you see the speeches that I gave and the impact that it had, and the regulation of fair disclosure, which was terribly important to what you are doing and how you are operating. These were enormously important investor initiatives.

CAVUTO: But what made you not think then when the market was four or five times the value it was, when the president was taking office… [that there was] a problem here, "Mr. President, it's getting a little giddy. We have got to get ahead of it?"

LEVITT: I wanted to stay as far away from politics as I possibly could. I didn't want to be known as the Democratic chairman of the SEC, I wanted to be known as an investor's advocate, and I think we were.

CAVUTO: Finally, looking back at the landscape since… is [it] overdone what's happened since?

LEVITT: I don't think so, but nor is it unique… whenever we have a market reaction, the public gets down on the business community. But it isn't regulation, and it isn't rule-making that's going to bring the public back. It's the humiliation and the embarrassment that has occurred and will continue to occur...

CAVUTO: But… [what] if [the violators] are found guilty of some of these improprieties, thrown in a Rikers, not just a country club prison but a Rikers? Something like that?

LEVITT: There is no question that many of these people will be wearing striped suits and that will act as a severe deterrent.

CAVUTO: Taking off the pinstripes.

LEVITT: But the one key issue is this, that investors, potentially the most powerful lobby in America, are impotent. They have no influence. The Congress by and large does not support investor interests. And only when investors — and I try to get into this in my book — get together and galvanize their interests, will they ever be a political power to be reckoned with.

CAVUTO: But it is not happening.

LEVITT: No, not yet. I hope my book will galvanize that.


CAVUTO: Arthur Levitt, the man who uses to run the SEC.

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