If Bush Becomes Prez, He May Pick Laura Unger to Temporarily Lead SEC

As the agency's only Republican commissioner, Unger is a likely choice to be interim chairwoman.
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If

George W. Bush

is able to keep his tenuous hold on the White House, he likely would name Laura Unger as the

Securities and Exchange Commission's

interim chairwoman, predicts John Coffee, a

Columbia University

law professor and securities expert.

Unger's status as the only

Republican

among the agency's commissioners makes her an obvious choice for acting chairwoman, Coffee says. And choosing her on an interim basis rather than immediately appointing a permanent successor to Chairman Arthur Levitt would allow Bush to focus on more pressing cabinet appointments during his initial months as president. He then could select a permanent agency chief later, Coffee says.

SEC Commissioner Laura Unger, appointed to the agency in 1997, could become its first woman chair if George W. Bush wins the White House.

There's precedent for putting the permanent agency appointment off. "

Clinton

didn't pick Arthur Levitt until after a whole year in office," Coffee says.

Unger didn't respond to a request for an interview this week. The Bush transition team also didn't respond to a request for a comment. But earlier this year, Unger said she'd welcome the opportunity.

"Let's just say I would certainly be happy to serve," she said in a May interview. "I think part of it depends on the new administration."

Of course, that remains the question of the hour.

Bush vowed to quickly begin assembling his transition team after the Florida secretary of state certified his victory there Sunday, but the outcome of the overall election remains unclear as Vice President

Al Gore

pushes forward with court challenges.

Unger, who was appointed to the agency in 1997, had been securities counsel to the

Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

and an adviser to former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R., N.Y.). As an agency commissioner, Unger has taken a lead on new technology issues and was the author of a

report released last year on the evolution of online brokerages.

Asked what her focus would be if she became the agency chairwoman, Unger in May said: "Technology, if you want to say there's a biggest issue."

Talk of a replacement for Levitt

began earlier this year. Levitt, whom President Clinton appointed as the agency chairman in 1993, has already served longer than anyone else in the top role at the agency.

Levitt's tenure on the agency doesn't end until 2003, and he could continue to serve on the agency even if he's replaced as chairman. But while he hasn't announced retirement plans, it's widely expected that he'll step down from the agency altogether if a new chairman is picked.

Most speculation thus far about the results of a Bush win has focused on James Doty, an attorney with Washington, D.C., firm

Baker Botts

, as permanent chairman of the agency. Doty was the agency's general counsel when Bush's father was president. One of Doty's partners is James Baker, who was secretary of state during the Bush administration and who has worked with the younger Bush during the election count saga in Florida.

But being the front-runner doesn't guarantee an appointment, says Edward Fleischman, a former agency commissioner and now an attorney in the New York office of

Linklaters

.

"History tends to prove that the longer the front-runner is front-runner, the weaker he gets," Fleischman says.

Coffee says the eventual choice to head the agency likely will come from the ranks of those who were prominent campaign fundraisers. "The SEC chairman often goes to someone who was a cabinet candidate," he adds.

If Bush is elected, the person he chooses to head the agency can be expected to take a far less aggressive stance toward regulating the securities markets, predicts Robert Parks, a finance professor at

Pace University's Lubin School of Business

in New York.

"I'm sure that,

for Mr. Bush, one of his first decisions in office will be to cut their staff," Parks says.

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