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Bush Vows To Get Tough on Corporate Wrongdoing - 2002-07-09

U.S. President George W. Bush is vowing to expose and punish corporate wrongdoing in the United States. Speaking in New York's Wall Street financial district, Mr. Bush promised to crack down with tougher penalties and enhanced government enforcement of laws against corruption and fraud.

The president said high profile acts of business corruption have shaken the public trust. "The lure of heady profits of the late 1990s spawned abuses and excesses. With strict enforcement and higher ethical standards we must usher in a new era of integrity in corporate America," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush said there should be tougher punishment for corporate executives found guilty of corruption and fraud. And he is setting up a government task force to target business wrongdoing.

"The task force will function as a financial crimes SWAT. The team overseeing the investigation of corporate abusers and bringing them to account," he said.

The proposals follow a series of corporate scandals that have shaken public confidence in the business sector. Thousands have lost their jobs, and many more stockholders have seen the value of their investments dwindle away.

The president said government will do all it can to correct the problem. But he cautions that in the end, the fate of corporate America lies with the ability of business leaders to set and live by high standards of conduct.

"Tougher laws and stricter requirements will help. Yet ultimately the ethics of American business depend on the conscience of America's business leaders. We need men and women of character, who know the difference between ambition and destructive greed," Mr. Bush said.

Even before the president delivered his speech, there was criticism on Capitol Hill. The top Democrat in the House of Representatives Richard Gephardt of Missouri, complained that the White House is talking tough, but avoiding any action that will anger the business sector.

"So far, the administration's approach has been a familiar strategy: use harsh rhetoric to condemn wrongdoers while delaying and watering down whatever reforms might come out of Congress," Mr. Gephardt said.

Corporate wrongdoing and what to do about it has clearly become one of the top political issues in this congressional election year. Democrats are painting Republicans as the party of big business. And in recent days they have been openly questioning the president's business dealings during his years in the private sector.

All this criticism has struck a raw nerve with the White House, which is dealing with public outrage over business failures and excesses that have sent shock waves through the stock market. In his New York speech, the president sought the higher ground saying it is up to government and the corporate sector to build the confidence of the people and the momentum of the markets.