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August 31, 2002

Pitt's Latest Liberal Critic

By Gregory Bresiger

Common Cause, a liberal lobbying group based in Washington, questions if SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt can run the agency in a fair and open manner. And the group, at its Web site, has recently published a collection of quotes from Pitt. These comments demonstrated that Pitt has been compromised because of prior links to the accounting and securities industries, according to Common Cause officials.

Among them are quotes attributed to him in The New York Times on July 18. "This will probably sound self-serving," Pitt told the Times, "but the fact is that it is an enormous advantage to the public to have somebody who knows about the securities business and the securities laws as I do, and it would be unthinkable to deprive people of my expertise."

Accounting Giant

Common Cause also criticized Pitt for meeting with top officials of accounting giant KPMG, discussing the accounting woes of its client, Xerox. Celia Wexler, a Common Cause official, called that "an example of really poor judgment." But Pitt, according to Common Cause, also stressed his connections to the accounting industry.

In a speech last October to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants AICPA, Pitt said: "I have been privileged to represent this fine organization and each of the Big Five accounting firms that are among its members. Predicated on that experience, I know that the profession is comprised of fine people who are committed to our disclosure system. Somewhere along the way, the accountants became afraid to talk to the SEC and the SEC appeared unwilling to listen to the profession."

SEC officials didn't respond to requests for comment.