SOX Turns 10: Analyzing the Relevance of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2012
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In the late 1990s, the nation experienced a string of corporate accounting scandals involving corporate heavyweights such as Tyco, WorldCom, and, of course, Enron. Investors lost billions of dollars, and public confidence in the financial sector was rattled. Clearly, change was needed. Enter the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (or “SOX,” as it is affectionately referred to) of 2002. This federal law introduced an oversight board (the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or PCAOB) and brought about sweeping changes to the financial sector. Indeed, President George W. Bush described SOX as “the most far reaching reform of American business practices since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” Reaction to SOX has been mostly positive, with many people agreeing that SOX has restored investor confidence and increased corporate accountability. However, there are many who oppose SOX, claiming that its high costs of compliance and the increase in complex regulations have done more harm than good. The constitutionality of the law (specifically, of the PCAOB) has even been called into question, resulting in a case heard by the United States Supreme Court. Recently, the American economy has one again experienced crisis. Today’s financial environment, however, is markedly different from that of the 1990s, and the American economy has different needs as it moves toward recovery. This thesis will evaluate Sarbanes-Oxley in terms of its relevance in today’s financial environment, 10 years after it was enacted.