Consumer Group Hammers Report On Governance Regs;

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Financial connection to Greenberg organization cited

National Underwriter – Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition

A California consumer group has criticized former American International Group Chairman Maurice Greenberg’s financial connection to a committee that issued a report calling for an easing of corporate regulation and accounting standards.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Los Angeles noted that Mr. Greenberg was ousted as chief executive officer and AIG chairman after an accounting scandal.

Their criticism followed release of the report by the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, which said a reduction in “regulation and litigation, while enhancing shareholder rights, will improve the competitiveness of U.S. capital markets.”

The committee — headed by Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia School of Business, and John Thornton, chairman of the Brookings Institution — includes 22 experts from the investor community, business, law, finance, accounting and academia, according to its literature. It was formed with the support of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson.

A large portion of the committee’s funding — $ 500,000 — came from the Starr Foundation, which was established by the founder of AIG and is now chaired by Mr. Greenberg, according to the California consumer group.

A call to Mr. Hubbard with a request for comment was not returned, but a source with knowledge of the Starr Foundation said the grant to the committee was unfettered and there was “no requirement to fund this sort of report.” The source spoke on an anonymous basis because they had not been authorized to comment.

AIG earlier this year agreed to pay a $ 1.6 billion settlement after New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer brought a civil fraud action against the company over accounting infractions. Mr. Greenberg, who was named in the suit, has not settled and is contesting allegations he was involved in false transfers of reserves and the creation of offshore entities to prop up AIG‘s results.

The recommendations in the Committee on Capital Markets report, according to the consumer group, would weaken post-Enron governance and accounting standards.

“The power given to prosecutors and the personal responsibility of CEOs created under Sarbanes-Oxley were key contributors to [Mr.] Greenberg’s ouster from AIG,” said Carmen Balber, a representative for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “This proposal is an attack by a discredited CEO against the corporate governance laws that ended his 37-year reign at the helm of AIG.”

Among the recommendations in the report is that “criminal enforcement against companies should be a last resort, reserved for companies that have become criminal enterprises from top to bottom. We should not hold outside directors responsible for corporate malfeasance that they cannot possibly detect.”

Also, the report suggested that “the SEC should adopt a more reasonable materiality standard both for internal controls and financial statements.”

The consumer group said other recommendations would result in:

* Giving federal regulators precedence in enforcement matters, effectively curtailing activities by state attorneys general like New York’s Mr. Spitzer.

* Substantially diminishing shareholder rights, such as a proposal to eliminate shareholder class-action lawsuits before a jury, replacing them with arbitration or nonjury trials.

* Not holding directors responsible for corporate malfeasance.

* Limiting an accounting firm’s liability if they certify false financial information enabling corporate executives to cheat their shareholders and the public.

* Weakening accounting requirements concerning what information must be reported as having an impact on financial statements, and loosening the standard by defining it as related to annual statements rather than interim ones.

“Corporate CEOs are using the cover of academia to lobby for less accountability to American shareholders while corporate scandals continue to fleece the public,” said Ms. Balber. “We should be looking for ways to strengthen our investor protections, not throwing them back to the wolves.”

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights describes itself as a California nonprofit and nonpartisan consumer watchdog group.

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