SEC Considering Softening Impact of New Rules

The Securities and Exchange Commission may revise aspects of some major reform legislation to answer concerns that smaller companies are overburdened by the new requirements.

But Chairman William Donaldson, in an interview with the New York Times, denied that he is backing away from an aggressive regulatory stance taken in the aftermath of Enron and other massive accounting scandals. He said he wants the rules to be more “cost-effective,” without weakening them.

"I'm not reacting to the 'pendulum swinging too far,"' Donaldson said in an interview. "I'm acting out the plan that has always been here. We would be foolhardy if we didn't try to adjust it with experience," he said, referring to a section of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 that requires executives and their auditors to tighten internal financial controls.

For some companies, Donaldson said, the requirement for stronger controls has worked well. Other businesses, however, have reported that "it goes too far, it's too expensive ... it's bureaucratic," he told the Associated Press.

Recent events have worried some investor advocates. On Monday, the SEC announced a public forum to hear corporate concerns about the internal controls required under the anti-fraud law. Donaldson suggested the agency would consider revisions.

In addition, following complaints by smaller U.S. public companies, the SEC set up an advisory committee in December to study how those companies are being affected by the anti-fraud law and securities laws.

The idea of separate, less strict rules for small companies "is of real concern," said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for Consumer Federation of America. "It hardly seems likely to be good for investors."

Lynn Turner, former SEC chief accountant said, "Reforms are dying and the agency is clearly backsliding. Donaldson has largely backed off or watered down many important proposals."

Donaldson took a positive view of the agency's recent actions. "It has been the most active period in the history of the SEC.”

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