Risk & Compliance

No Rest for the Leery

After making an initial splash, the capital markets committee formed by Harvard professor Hal Scott seems to have been eased off center stage.
Alix StuartFebruary 1, 2008

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the newly formed Committee on Capital Markets Regulation (CCMR), which was organized by Harvard Law School professor Hal Scott and blessed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, was garnering plenty of buzz as it pushed for key reforms to financial regulations. Soon a bevy of new committees joined the fray, along with several key politicians, and much did, in fact, change. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board issued an ostensibly less onerous Auditing Standard No. 5, while the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to delay the Section 404–compliance deadline for small companies for another year and also closed the door on granting greater shareholder access to proxies.

But what has the CCMR done lately? This past December it issued “a second wake-up call” in the form of a report that documents the continued decline of U.S. equities markets as evidenced by various measures of U.S. IPO activity. Scott believes that rampant securities litigation and slow SEC procedures are the key obstacles, and says that “on a scale of 1 to 10, we are still at a 2 in terms of doing what needs to be done.” But the group’s second report attracted little attention, and some observers, such as Joseph Carcello, director of research at the University of Tennessee’s Corporate Governance Center, believe that other committees, such as the Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting and the Treasury Department’s Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession, have taken center stage.

If nothing else, David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, credits the CCMR with removing the stigma of criticizing post-Enron regulation. “Two or three years ago…anyone who articulated a view that the pendulum had gone too far was labeled as an apologist for corporate criminals,” he says. The work of the CCMR and other groups has made it clear that “you can be mad as hell and want to punish corporate criminals, but still think the current regulatory structure isn’t serving us well.”

Undeterred, the CCMR may move on to the debt markets as it considers a new project that would diagnose the underlying causes of the subprime-mortgage crisis.