The SEC backs off
On July 20, 2007, "SEC Chairman Christopher Cox issued the following statement concerning disclosures filed with the Commission concerning public company activities in countries that the U.S. Secretary of State has determined to have repeatedly supported terrorism:
Since the SEC added to our Internet site a web tool that permits investors to obtain information directly from company disclosure documents about their business interests in countries the U.S. Secretary of State has designated 'State Sponsors of Terrorism,' the site has experienced exceptional traffic. Between June 25, when the web tool was unveiled, through July 16, visitors have 'hit' material posted on the site well over 150,000 times. Iran was the country most frequently clicked on, followed by Cuba, Sudan, North Korea, and Syria. Those who went to a country list most often clicked through to the text of companies' own disclosure (in the case of Iran, they did so overwhelmingly), indicating that the disclosures were allowed to speak for themselves."
The Chairman went on to add that, despite the unqualified success of the effort, the SEC is
"temporarily suspending the availability of the web tool while it undergoes reconstruction." Further SEC staff is "considering whether the use of interactive data tags applied by companies themselves could permit investors, analysts and others to easily discover this disclosure without need of an SEC-provided web tool at all. In the interim, the companies' disclosure regarding their business contacts in the five nations will continue to be available through the SEC's EDGAR database, and findable using our new full-text search capability."
We fully supported the SEC's efforts, have called for the use of interactive data tags in exactly this way (page 17), and are disappointed to see the site go down. As the Chairman noted,
"The exceptional public interest that has been demonstrated in reading company disclosures on this topic indicates that it is an important subject for investors. Federal law and SEC regulations will continue to require public companies to report on their activities, if material, in a country the Secretary of State has formally determined to be a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Our role is to make that information readily accessible to the investing public, and we will continue to work to find better ways to accomplish that objective."
The effort reinforces our view that by showing a willingness to address, in a timely and creative manner, critical issues affecting his Agency, Chairman Cox is the single most competent appointment made by the Bush Administration. The Terrorism disclosure effort was incredibly entrepreneurial and successful, both highly unusual for this Administration. We can only surmise that business interests on both sides of the issue (those doing business in States designated as sponsors of terrorism, and those selling information about those doing business in States designated as sponsors of terrorism) combined to get the pages taken down. This does not bode well for efforts to enhance shareholder democracy.
Lets hope this service comes back on-line soon.