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Corporate Scandal Discussion Heats Up - 2002-07-14

The rhetoric is heating up in Washington as Republicans and Democrats clash over the recent corporate scandals in the United States. Democrats are attacking President Bush's past business activities and his choice to head the government agency that keeps watch on the corporate sector. Bush administration officials counter the Democrats are playing politics with a crucial issue.

The debate over corporate accountability is dominating the airwaves in the United States. On Sunday, it was the focus of the weekly news interview programs aired on five American television networks.

NBC's Meet the Press featured a lengthy segment with the controversial chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal agency that oversees corporate activity. Harvey Pitt defended his work and said he would not resign. "I am the right person for the job and the American public expects me to be there pitching in for them and making sure that they get a fair deal," he said.

Mr. Pitt is under increasing pressure from members of Congress who say he has not been tough enough on big business. On ABC's This Week program, Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut democrat, said Harvey Pitt once worked as a lawyer for some of the big accounting firms now under SEC scrutiny. "I think it would be better for everyone if Mr. Pitt stepped down as chairman of the SEC, and President Bush had the opportunity to appoint somebody totally independent because the scandals that we are going through now and the incredible loss of money that so many people have suffered in the markets were not a reality when Harvey Pitt was appointed," said Senator Lieberman.

Senator Lieberman also called on the SEC to release files related to its investigation of a stock deal President Bush made more than a decade ago, long before he entered politics. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, who also appeared on This Week, said the Democrats are trying to make a political issue out of nothing. "In the last six election cycles this issue has come up five times," he said. "The SEC has looked at it. A thousand reporters have looked at it. And the conclusion has always been nothing there!"

On CNN's Late Edition, Senator John Edwards took issue with that view. The North Carolina Democrat said whether or not George W. Bush acted legally, he took advantage of some of the same corporate practices he now wants to curtail. "I think the problem is the president because of his history, because of his relationships, because of the history and the relationships of the people around him in his administration," he said. "There are a lot of people in this country who believe he sees things through the eyes of the CEO's of corporate America instead of through the eyes of ordinary investors, ordinary Americans."

Democrats have long called the Republican Party "the party of big business." And they are wasting no time turning this new round of corporate scandals into a big issue in this congressional election year. Republicans are reminding voters to keep their eye on the big picture, and stress the overall economy is improving, and that confidence in corporate America will return.