ST. PAUL (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone usually gets an earful on issues along holiday parade routes, but he took special note last week when people offered their two cents on the mounting allegations of corporate wrongdoing.
"I don't remember having discussions on these type of 'corporate governance issues' in Fourth of July parades," Wellstone said. "This Fourth of July, it happened."
Perhaps sensing a growing public outrage on an emerging election-year issue, Wellstone and other Minnesota Democrats voiced unflinching support Monday for stricter oversight of businesses and their auditors and harsher penalties for corporate violators.
It came as Congress delved further into an investigation of WorldCom Inc., which disclosed last month it had overstated profits by nearly $4 billion. New stories of questionable bookkeeping by companies are an almost daily occurrence.
Wellstone was joined at a news conference by Attorney General Mike Hatch. State Auditor candidate Greg Gray also focused on corporate misdeeds at a separate event with U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and current Auditor Judi Dutcher, all Democrats.
Neither Wellstone nor Hatch directly blamed Republicans, but both said that the push for eased regulation over the years -- favored in GOP circles -- created a corporate culture ripe for abuse.
"The pendulum has basically swung too far and people now realize that at the very minimum we have to do some things to make sure there is protection for us and our families," Wellstone said.
Besides damaging public trust, claims of financial reporting irregularities by several corporate giants has driven down values of personal portfolios and public pension funds.
Among other things, Wellstone advocated for regulations that would: prohibit auditors from doing consulting work for companies they audit; establish a board to draw up and enforce new auditing standards; and hold business leaders more accountable when wrongdoing is discovered, which could involve prison time in some cases.
Wellstone also called on President Bush to seek the resignation of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt, whom some argue is too closely tied to the accounting profession because of private-sector clients he used to serve. But on Monday, the White House said Bush stood firmly behind Pitt.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.