SEC's Pitt Defends Record, Says Has "No Regrets"

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt, fighting calls for his resignation as America's top markets cop, Friday said he had no regrets, defended his record and held himself apart from a contentious corporate reform debate going on in Congress.

In prepared remarks, Pitt said despite the efforts of the SEC, stock exchanges and Congress, capital markets were still rightfully fretful after scandals at Enron Corp. , WorldCom Inc. , and a host of other companies.

"There have been many thoughtful proposals to reform our capital markets. But the public is not yet reassured. There's no doubt that investors have been given good reason to be wary," he said in remarks to be delivered at a luncheon.

Minutes before he spoke, the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 blue-chip U.S. industrial stocks was down more than 280 points near 8,120, its lowest levels seen since 1998.

As the market has slumped, lawmakers from both parties have suggested Pitt -- a former corporate lawyer who represented many corporations and accounting firms -- resign due to perceptions that he is still too close to his former clients.

The burly, Brooklyn-born lawyer has angrily dismissed these demands and said he has no intention of stepping down.

"Today, because of the cacophony of some politically motivated attacks, I've been asked if I regret my decision" to return 11 months ago as chairman to the SEC, where he worked early in his legal career, he said in the speech.

"I don't need to think twice about it. This is one of a handful of lifetime decisions about which I know I will never have second thoughts or even a slight twinge of regret."

Rattling off a list of accomplishments under his tenure, he said over the first 10 months of the federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the commission had:

--Filed 122 actions for financial reporting and issuer disclosure violations, 20 percent more than in all of 2000;

--Sought to throw unfit officers and directors out of corporate boardrooms for good in 71 cases, almost twice the number sought in 2000, with more coming;

--Filed 42 temporary restraining orders, seeking immediate relief to prevent irreparable harm to investors, up almost 30 percent from 2000.

He said the commission has also moved forward in a push to take action more quickly in difficult cases, citing the speedy charges brought against WorldCom.

He also cited the quick appointment of a corporate monitor, former SEC Chairman Richard Breeden, "to ensure that no WorldCom records would be destroyed, and no WorldCom assets would be dissipated by extraordinary payments to present or former officers, directors or employees."

Walking a fine line between rival corporate reform proposals being reconciled starting today in Congress, he said, "The House and Senate have also assumed leadership roles, by passing key reform legislation that is now the subject of a joint Conference Committee."

He praised both Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes and Ohio Republican Rep. Michael Oxley, authors of rival proposals to set up a new accounting board for accountants, increase the independence of auditors and crack down on executives.