Column: Don’t follow the leader

I spent Monday afternoon watching some of the WorldCom hearings and the interviews with President Bush afterward. During some of these interviews, the topic of Bush’s own business practices came into play. It was then that I realized how hypocritical Bush’s promise to stop big business fraud really is. Bush was questioned about Harken Energy Corp, an oil company on whose board of directors he sat, concealing $10 million in losses by selling a subsidiary to a group of insiders, an offense similar to Enron.Bush claimed it was just “difference of opinion as to how to account for a complicated transaction.”I later heard that exact defense used by someone talking about the former WorldCom executives. It seems Bush’s excuse is extremely convenient for anyone facing an inquiry on bad business practices. Bush did realize the can of worms his justification may open and said good prosecutors and a strong Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will separate those companies using excuses to cover fraud from those companies with an honest difference of opinion. It confuses me then why the White House, earlier this year, proposed a zero-growth budget for the SEC and a reduction in the staff that investigates securities fraud. Bush also criticized those who do not disclose insider stock sales within appropriate timelines. Bush was found personally guilty of not declaring insider sales within the legal time limit on four occasions. One of the sales was declared eight months late. The explanation for such a delay has been varied. Bush cited that it was lost in the shuffle by the regulators. The White House said it was lost by lawyers. Bush is crying out for stricter punishments and better investigation. These are some of the very things he was doubtlessly trying to avoid during the Harken investigation. If a stronger, larger SEC is appointed, I have no doubt Bush will get enough say on who the new investigators are to ensure his own alleged transgressions never get reexamined. If judgment day is coming for big business under the Bush administration, Harken and Bush will still be safe. For these new policies to mean anything, the Bush administration must realize that honest business practices, like charity, must begin at home. If Bush really wants Americans to regain faith in the free enterprise system, then he should come clean about what really went on when he was at Harken. Why did he fail to report insider sales on so many occasions? Be bold and prove to the American people that no one is above the law. As the questions about Harken mounted, Bush appeared to grow upset and responded, “People love to play politics.” Well, that is one thing that certainly seems to start at home with the Bush administration.n University Wire