- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

House Republican leaders, heading home to face voters anxious over retirement security, announced yesterday they will introduce legislation to seize the mansions and yachts of corrupt corporate executives.

"We need to do more to strip corrupt corporate kingpins of their ill-gotten gains," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "We're taking the mansion. We're draining the accounts. And we're coming after the yacht."

Mr. DeLay was flanked at his news conference by an enlarged photograph of a $15 million Florida mansion under construction for Scott Sullivan, the former chief financial officer of WorldCom, which stands accused of defrauding investors out of billions of dollars. Republican leaders said they will introduce their bill in September, after lawmakers' monthlong August recess that begins for the House today.

Democrats said the Republicans' latest move, coupled with their support of a bill to increase the criminal penalties for corporate wrongdoers, is more evidence that Republicans feel vulnerable politically on the issue.

"Nothing is more pitiful or more funny than a flock of repentant politicians in full flight," said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.

And Rep. Jose E. Serrano, New York Democrat, boasted to reporters that he will control the Appropriations subcommittee that holds the purse strings for the FBI next year when Democrats win back the House. Mr. Serrano has been critical of the FBI's surveillance of Puerto Rican nationalists from the 1950s to the 1970s.

"Is this a great country or what?" Mr. Serrano said, referring to himself as "chairman-to-be."

But Mr. DeLay said internal polling that he reviewed yesterday shows all incumbent Republicans in competitive districts with comfortable leads. Republicans hold a 12-seat advantage in the House.

"I don't know where all this comes from, that it's unsettling out there and that we're in danger and we're going to lose the House," Mr. DeLay said. "This notion that we haven't been doing anything, that the voter is going to blame the Republicans for what crooked CEOs do, is just not appearing anywhere we have been able to find."

Rep. Mike Pence, a freshman Republican from Indiana, said passage this week of the corporate-accountability bill will shield incumbent Republicans against Democrats' charges that the GOP is too cozy with big business.

"I think we put the pin back in the hand grenade on this," said Mr. Pence, adding that his Democratic opponent "has been talking about nothing else" for the past three weeks.

The Republicans' "investor relief" bill is not yet written, but lawmakers said it will contain provisions to seize assets of corrupt corporate executives, prevent those assets from paying the fees of lawyers in such cases, and reduce taxes on retirement investments.

Current law allows the Securities and Exchange Commission to collect civil fines and other penalties for corporate malfeasance and distribute that money to aggrieved investors. Total collections in 2001 exceeded $500 million, and Rep. Richard H. Baker, Louisiana Republican, said that total "will likely go up rather dramatically."

Mr. Baker said he hopes the legislation will give the SEC seizure powers much like the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"If you happen to be selling drugs and you're in somebody else's car, that car gets impounded, put in a lot and protected until the issues have been resolved," Mr. Baker said. "So, we seize assets so that they don't run off to the Caribbean or off to trial lawyers, that they stay in a bank account so that they can be allocated to their rightful owner."

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