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Big Names for SEC Chairman Elude Bush Administration

March 21, 2001|From Reuters

Eight weeks after President Bush took office, efforts to find someone willing to head the nation's top securities regulatory agency have yet to bear fruit.

The search for a new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman has failed to attract big industry insiders such as Donald Marron, chairman of UBS PaineWebber, who has said he is not interested.

Others who reportedly have turned down offers include Joseph Grundfest, a former SEC commissioner and Stanford University law school professor; John Mack, former president of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.; and William Steere, chairman and chief executive of Pfizer Inc.

Another high-ranking Pfizer executive remains in the running, as well as a Republican congressman from California and a Washington lawyer, according to recent media reports.

The reluctance to accept a call from the White House to head the SEC does not necessarily reflect badly on the Bush administration, experts say.

"I'm sure the reasons are personal and professional," said Frank Goldstein, a securities lawyer at the Washington firm of Brown & Wood.

While the search moves forward, Laura Unger continues as acting chairwoman of the SEC, which oversees the nation's securities markets and dealers.

Unger, 40, was appointed by Bush to temporarily head the 3,000-employee agency after Arthur Levitt, a Democrat seen as a champion for the individual investor, stepped down in February when the Republican administration came into power.

Securities experts say there will be little disruption in how the agency conducts its daily regulatory functions, such as enforcement, review of corporate filings and processing of registration statements, among others.

In addition to lacking a permanent chairman, two Republican seats on the SEC's five-member panel remain vacant.

Candidates reportedly still in the running include U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), Washington lawyer James Doty and Peggy Foran, vice president at Pfizer.

A Pfizer spokesman declined to comment.

Anyone nominated by the White House must still face confirmation hearings held by the Senate Banking Committee under the chairmanship of Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas).

Several SEC watchers said Unger is seen as too young and lacking Wall Street experience.

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