SEC Watch: Don't Let This Agency Be Crippled

Perhaps the single most important government agency for the business world is the Securities and Exchange Commission. Its five-member commission makes decisions that affect every public company in the land as well as many privately held ones.

The commission has been split 3-2 among Republicans and Democrats, with Christopher Cox, a California Republican and former congressman, serving as chairman.

Now both Democrats on the commission are gone, for reasons of their own choosing. Annette Nazreth is leaving at the end of January and her former Democratic colleague, Roel Campos, stepped down last year.

So the SEC could make decisions with only Republicans on the commission, but that isn't the right way. The SEC needs to be above partisanship. At the moment, anything the SEC does can be criticized or second-guessed as reflecting a Republican agenda.

That's why I think President Bush and Congress need to move this year, before the election, to find two Democrats to fill out the commission. They should be centrists and ideally should not be tempted by overambitious notions of "shareholder access," which is the phrase some shareholder activists are using to describe their efforts to put their own candidates for boards of directors on company proxy ballots. This is probably the most important issue the SEC faces.

If the right Democrats could be found, the SEC's steady, bipartisan position on this and other key issues could be enhanced. But leaving the commission in its current status, awaiting the next political regime next January, is a mistake.