WASHINGTON: In a textbook example of stealing someone else's media spotlight, government watchdog group Common Cause used the SEC's "Investor Summitto call for the resignation of SEC chairman Harvey Pitt. The May 10 summit was billed as a forum for investors "to ask questions and offer comments about the SEC's regulatory agenda
in the wake of several corporate and market-related scandals.
The left-leaning Common Cause blanketed the audience at the summit with a press release that called for the SEC chief to step down because of recent revelations that Pitt may have inappropriately discussed the details of an SEC investigation of Xerox with the CEO of Xerox's former accounting firm, KPMG.
KPMG, which was a client of Pitt's when the chairman was a private-practice securities attorney, could come under SEC scrutiny in relation to the probe. Pitt adamantly contends that he has done nothing wrong and has said that he has no intention to resign.
"We hadn't planned anything for the summit until the news of the KPMG meeting broke the week before,
said Celia Wexler, a lobbyist with Common Cause. "It was really just serendipitous that there was a scheduled forum where we could get our message out."
Common Cause's tactics appeared to work, as most media accounts of the summit gave considerable play to the group's call for Pitt's resignation.
Indeed, just a few hours after the summit had ended, Pitt was forced to respond to calls for his resignation on CNBC in an interview that was supposed to focus on the investor summit.
The SEC says it was not totally surprised by the ambush, as it intended the investor summit to focus on some controversial issues.
"We wanted the summit to be an open forum where people could air legitimate concerns and criticisms - even if that meant we had to hear some unfriendly things about us,
said John Nester, an SEC spokesman. "This wasn't supposed to be a highly choreographed softball affair. We expected investors to share what was really on their minds."