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Background of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002
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price plummeted Other investors experienced substantial losses, including Enron employees who had invested a large portion of their retirement portfolios in Enron stock (Securities and Exchange Commission v Timothy A DeSpain, 2005; Securities and Exchange Commission v Richard A Causey, Jeffery K Skilling, and Kenneth L Lay, 2004) The certified accounting firm of Arthur Andersen LLP, which had been one of the largest accounting firms in the world, served as Enron s auditor throughout the years of erroneous statements The firm allegedly overlooked Enron s questionable accounting practices since it was making a large amount of money for providing Enron with consulting services and did not want to lose the consulting business The firm was indicted by the US Department of Justice, and in June 2002 a jury convicted the firm of obstructing justice by shredding Enron-related documents requested by the SEC US District Judge Melinda Harmon sentenced the firm to a $500,000 fine and five years probation The conviction, however, essentially decimated the powerful Big Five firm, and it lost most of its clients The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the jury verdict, but on May 31, 2005, the US Supreme Court overturned accounting firm Arthur Andersen s obstruction of justice conviction The conviction, according to Supreme Court justices, was improper because the jury instructions during the trial were too broad and vague, and jurors couldn t correctly determine whether the company actually committed the crime The reversal of the firm s criminal conviction is thus based entirely on a trial technicality: improper jury instructions (Arthur Anderson LLP v United States, 2005) Although the relationship between Enron and Arthur Andersen LLP is a dramatic example of failure in the auditing process, there were a number of other accounting firms whose auditing practices and relationships with auditing clients were under question Examples include Deloitte Touche and Adelphia, Ernst & Young and AOL, KPMG and Xerox, and PricewaterhouseCoopers and Bristol-Myers Squibb Response of President Bush and the 107th Congress As more and more scandals came to light, the public s confidence in the capital markets and in the integrity of corporate financial statements was shaken In part in response to the lack of public confidence and the downward plummet in the stock market, both President George W Bush and the 107th Congress responded On March 7, 2002, the President announced his Ten-Point Plan to Improve Corporate Responsibility and Protect America s Shareholders, based on three core principles: information accuracy and accessibility, management accountability, and auditor independence The points of the plan were: Each investor should have quarterly access to the information needed to judge a firm s financial performance, condition, and risks
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Each investor should have prompt access to critical information CEOs should personally vouch for the veracity, timeliness, and fairness of their companies public disclosures, including their financial statements CEOs or other officers should not be allowed to profit from erroneous financial statements CEOs or other officers who clearly abuse their power should lose their right to serve in any corporate leadership positions Corporate leaders should be required to tell the public promptly whenever they buy or sell company stock for personal gain Investors should have complete confidence in the independence and integrity of companies auditors An independent regulatory board should ensure that the accounting profession is held to the highest ethical standards The authors of accounting standards must be responsive to the needs of investors Firms accounting systems should be compared with best practices, not simply minimum standards On July 9, 2002, President Bush issued Executive Order 1371, which established the Corporate Fraud Task Force within the Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson heads the task force The task force includes representatives from seven US Attorney Offices, the FBI, and SEC to oversee the investigation and prosecution of financial fraud, accounting fraud, and other corporate criminal activity, and to provide enhanced interagency coordination of regulatory and criminal investigations Former Deputy Attorney General Thompson explained the goal of the President s Corporate Fraud Task Force, As we establish with ever increasing certainty the prospect that corporate criminals will lose both their fortunes and their liberty, we will have gone a long way to restoring the integrity of the market and the confidence of the nation (Office of the Press Secretary, 2002) The Congress response was the relatively quick passage of SOX, a substantial piece of legislation It took less than six months (from February 14 to July 15) for both chambers of Congress to pass the bill and send it to President Bush for signature The President did so on July 30, 2002
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