President Bush is defending his past dealings in the private business sector as he prepares to deliver a major speech on corporate responsibility. There are lingering questions about the way he handled a stock sale more than a decade ago.
The president says he did nothing wrong, and opponents who bring up his business dealings do so for purely political reasons. "The way I view it is it is old style politics. And I guess that is the way it is going to be," he said.
At issue are his actions in the early 1990s when he sat on the board of directors of a Texas energy firm and sold massive stock holdings. Mr. Bush says the company, its accounting practices, and his stock sale were investigated by the government agency responsible for monitoring corporate practices the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"The SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] fully looked into the matter," he said. "They looked at all aspects of it and they did so in a very thorough way and the people that looked into it said there is no case."
But Democrats on Capital Hill remain skeptical. They note Mr. Bush filed some papers related to the stock sale late, and acted just before the company reported large losses. Among those speaking out is Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.
"Despite a string of business failures, our president always seemed to land on his feet and seemed to profit. Now there are disturbing indicators that he has played fast and loose with some of the rules that he is now asking his administration to enforce," he said.
Such comments have clearly struck a nerve at the White House, which is also dealing with accusations it is too pro-business. President Bush is said to be walking a fine line as he prepares for his speech Tuesday in New York's financial district. He wants tougher regulations, but is also concerned that too much government oversight would stifle business activity.
At a news conference Monday, Mr. Bush indicated he will announce stricter penalties for corporate executives convicted of fraud, as well as steps to enhance the powers of the Security and Exchange Commission. He said he has one overall goal in mind. "The important thing is to restore confidence in the economy and we can," he said.
The president said business reform should be a top priority for the remainder of the 2002 congressional session. He said he hopes to work with Congress in an atmosphere free of politics to draft the necessary legislation.