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White House Unaware of Pitt Bid for Raise

Securities: The SEC chairman is said to have acted on his own in seeking Cabinet status.

July 25, 2002|From Associated Press

Harvey L. Pitt, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, was acting on his own when he asked Congress for a promotion and a raise, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday.

President Bush did not know about the request until he read news accounts about it, Fleischer said.

Still, Fleischer declined to criticize Pitt, saying: "I think it's always a prerogative of independent agencies to talk to Congress."

Pitt declined to answer questions Wednesday about the request, but SEC spokeswoman Christi Harlan defended the action.

"It was an informal suggestion to the conference on behalf of the agency," she said, referring to lawmakers working on legislation to fight corporate fraud. Pitt's intent, Harlan said, was to raise the agency's profile and attract the most qualified accountants, lawyers and economists.

"It had nothing to do with the chairman," she said.

Pitt's lobbying efforts to elevate the SEC to full Cabinet status and to raise the chairman's salary to $166,700 from $138,200 was first reported by the New York Times.

Key lawmakers reached agreement on the reform measure Wednesday, and the White House announced that Bush would sign it. The final version does not include the changes Pitt sought.

As for giving the SEC Cabinet status, Fleischer said: "The SEC is on top of their job and doing it well. And they have the status that they need to enforce the laws."

Pitt has become a divisive figure because of his past close ties with the accounting industry as a securities lawyer. Several top lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have called for Pitt's resignation.

"I was really surprised to see Mr. Pitt's recommendations," Daschle said Wednesday. "Of all the things that he has to think about, it is amazing to me that this is what he's spending his time thinking about."

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