August 18, 2019

Knell, NPR’s Chief, to Leave for National Geographic Society

His announcement came as an unwelcome surprise to NPR staff members, given that Mr. Knell brought some stability to the organization’s executive ranks when he was appointed in late 2011. Conflicts between past chief executives and the NPR board had resulted in repeated shake-ups in the years leading up to his arrival. But Mr. Knell’s departure is because of something else: a better job offer.

In an e-mail to the NPR staff, Mr. Knell said he was approached by the National Geographic Society and “offered an opportunity that, after discussions with my family, I could not turn down.”

In a subsequent telephone interview, Mr. Knell said he had been prepared to renew his NPR contract, which expires in November. But then National Geographic called, and it was enticing for a number of reasons, he said. One was immediately suggested by observers on Monday was money: he will earn a significantly higher salary at the society. But he said his decision “wasn’t really driven by a financial equation”; what was most appealing about National Geographic, he said, was its size, its educational efforts and international scope.

At National Geographic, he will succeed John M. Fahey Jr., who has been the society’s chief executive since 1998. Mr. Knell is already one of the 22 trustees of the society, which publishes National Geographic and other magazines, supports scientific research and expeditions, and jointly owns the National Geographic Channel.

The society had about $600 million in income in 2011, according to tax filings, making it far bigger than NPR, which has a budget of about $180 million this year and is running a small deficit. The society also has twice as many employees.

“After a comprehensive and global search, we are delighted to announce that the perfect person for this crucial role was right in our own backyard,” said Jean Case, the co-chairwoman of the committee that searched for a new chief executive for the society. She said Mr. Fahey would remain the chairman of the board.

While Mr. Knell’s departure from NPR appears amicable, it is disappointing to that organization’s board, which must once again search for a leader.

Ken Stern, who was named chief executive in 2006, stepped down less than two years later; an interim head took over until NPR hired Vivian Schiller away from The New York Times to run the organization in 2009. She resigned two years after that, after back-to-back controversies involving the political views of an NPR analyst, Juan Williams, and a pair of NPR fund-raising executives. Another interim head was appointed until Mr. Knell’s arrival in 2011 from the nonprofit Sesame Workshop.

In his message to the staff on Monday, Mr. Knell said the NPR board “has been incredibly supportive of my leadership and is more than up to the task of finding a great successor.” The board could turn to one of Mr. Knell’s top lieutenants, like Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s executive vice president and chief content officer, or Margaret Low Smith, the senior vice president for news. Or it could look outside the organization, as it did when it brought in Mr. Knell.

Kit Jensen, the chairwoman of the NPR board, said she expected a “fairly quick” succession process.

Calling Mr. Knell a “stellar C.E.O.,” Ms. Jensen said in a telephone interview, “Certainly, we wish his decision had been otherwise, but we respect what that decision is.”

Before he steps down, Mr. Knell will help NPR break even by proposing a number of as-yet-undisclosed steps. The organization has a $6 million deficit in the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30. It is forecast to run a deficit again next year, and the premise of the plan that Mr. Knell is preparing will result in a balanced budget in 2015. “We hope to present a strategic plan to the board soon, before my departure,” he said Monday.

Mr. Knell said that among his proudest achievements at NPR were “bringing institutional donors back” and “helping calm some of the waters on Capitol Hill.” (Calls for cuts to government subsidies for NPR have largely quieted.) By other measures — like NPR’s relations with member stations and its reputation for innovation — the organization has made steady improvement under Mr. Knell.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in a short amount of time,” he said, suggesting that he felt as if he had fit four years of work into his two years.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/business/media/knell-nprs-chief-to-leave-for-national-geographic-society.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Common Sense: S.E.C.’s New Chief Promises Tougher Line on Cases

In a departure from long-established practice, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White, said this week that defendants would no longer be allowed to settle some cases while “neither admitting nor denying” wrongdoing.

“In the interest of public accountability, you need admissions” in some cases, Ms. White told me. “Defendants are going to have to own up to their conduct on the public record,” she said. “This will help with deterrence, and it’s a matter of strengthening our hand in terms of enforcement.”

In a memo to the S.E.C. enforcement staff announcing the new policy on Monday, the agency’s co-leaders of enforcement, Andrew Ceresney and George Canellos, said there might be cases that “justify requiring the defendant’s admission of allegations in our complaint or other acknowledgment of the alleged misconduct as part of any settlement.”

They added, “Should we determine that admissions or other acknowledgment of misconduct are critical, we would require such admissions or acknowledgment, or, if the defendants refuse, litigate the case.”

Ms. White said that most cases would still be settled under the prevailing “neither admit nor deny” standard, which, she said, has been effective at encouraging defendants to settle and speeding relief to victims.

The policy change follows years of criticism that the S.E.C. has been too lenient, especially with the large institutions that were at the center of the financial crisis. Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase were among the defendants that settled charges related to the financial crisis while neither admitting nor denying guilt, although Goldman was required to admit that its marketing materials were incomplete.

That this approach became such a heated public issue is in large part because of the provocative efforts of Judge Jed S. Rakoff of Federal District Court, who has twice threatened to derail settlements with large financial institutions that neither admitted nor denied the government’s allegations.

In late 2011, he ruled that he couldn’t assess the fairness of the agency’s settlement with Citigroup in a complex mortgage case without knowing what, if anything, Citigroup had actually done. In his ruling, he said that settling with defendants who neither admit nor deny the allegations is a policy “hallowed by history but not by reason.”

He described the settlement, which was for $285 million, as “pocket change” for a giant bank like Citigroup. Other judges have followed Judge Rakoff’s lead, and an appeal of his Citigroup ruling is pending before the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The new policy would seem to vindicate Judge Rakoff, at least in spirit, but Ms. White said the decision was rooted in her experience as United States attorney in New York, where defendants in criminal cases are almost always required either to enter a guilty plea or go to trial.

“Judge Rakoff and other judges put this issue more in the public eye, but it wasn’t his comments that precipitated the change,” she said. “I’ve lived with this issue for a very long time, and I decided it was something that we should review, and that could strengthen the S.E.C.’s enforcement hand.” (Judge Rakoff, who is presiding over a trial in Fresno, Calif., said he couldn’t comment, citing the appeal of his Citigroup ruling.)

Those concerned that Ms. White, who before her confirmation as chairwoman of the S.E.C. was head of the litigation department at the prominent corporate law firm Debevoise Plimpton, might be too cozy with the big banks and corporations that were formerly her clients, can breathe easier. Even some of the S.E.C.’s harshest critics were at least somewhat mollified.

“It’s an important step in the right direction,” said John Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School and a vocal critic of S.E.C. settlements he deems too lenient. “There’s clearly a public hunger for accountability. Mary Jo White has shown she sensitive to this.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/22/business/secs-new-chief-promises-tougher-line-on-cases.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Chinese Couple Agree to Pay $3.75 Million in Fraud Case

A husband-and-wife team that ran a Chinese maker of pollution control equipment agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.75 million to settle accusations that they had defrauded American investors.

The settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission came more than two years after the company, Rino International, at one time worth about $500 million on the Nasdaq stock exchange, collapsed after a short seller accused the company of claiming revenue from nonexistent contracts. More than three years ago, the company raised $100 million from American investors in a stock offering.

The S.E.C. complaint said the company; its chief executive, Zou Dejun; and his wife, the chairwoman, Qiu Jianping; kept two sets of books. The Chinese books, which the S.E.C. said were correct, showed total revenue of $31 million from the first quarter of 2008 through the third quarter of 2010. The United States books, which were used in financial statements, showed revenue of $491 million, or about 15 times as much.

The 2009 public offering, which raised $100 million by selling stock and warrants to buy more shares, valued the shares at more than $30 each, and they traded for as much as $34.25 in Nasdaq trading. They were delisted by Nasdaq in 2010 and now trade over the counter for about a nickel.

As part of the settlement, Mr. Zou agreed to pay a penalty of $150,000, and Ms. Qui, $100,000. In addition, they agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a related class-action suit.

The S.E.C. said that days after the 2009 public offering, the couple, who together controlled 65 percent of the company’s stock, used $3.5 million of the money raised to buy a home for their use in Orange County, Calif., then gave conflicting accounts to auditors regarding how the money was used. They eventually signed notes indicating that they had borrowed the money from the company.

The fraud fell apart in November 2010 after the Muddy Waters research Web site, which seeks out stocks to sell short and has exposed a number of Chinese frauds, released a report saying some of the company’s reported revenue came from fraudulent contracts with purchasers. The company did not deny the report, saying only that it would investigate, and the stock fell sharply.

A few days later the company’s auditors, Frazer Frost, reported that Mr. Zou had admitted that some of the contracts did not exist. The auditors withdrew their previous certifications of the financial results.

On Nov. 30, the company sent a letter to the S.E.C. saying it intended “to file restated audited financial statements” for 2008 and 2009 “as soon as practicable.” It has made no such filings since, and the company’s Web site is no longer available.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/chinese-couple-settle-s-e-c-fraud-case/?partner=rss&emc=rss

E-Book Sales a Boon to Publishers in 2012

E-book sales, especially in the thriving romance genre, gave the book business a lift in 2012, according to a survey of publishers released Wednesday.

In a year that was monopolized by the “Fifty Shades” erotic novels and their various knockoffs, e-book sales in fiction rose 42 percent over the year before, to $1.8 billion. Growth in nonfiction e-book sales was smaller, a 22 percent increase, to $484.2 million. E-book sales in the children’s and young-adult categories increased 117 percent, to $469.2 million.

The survey revealed that e-books now account for 20 percent of publishers’ revenues, up from 15 percent in 2011. Publishers’ net revenues in 2012 were $15 billion, up from $14 billion in 2011, while unit sales of trade books increased 8 percent, to $2.3 billion.

The annual survey, known as BookStats, was compiled by two trade groups, the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. It includes data from about 1,500 publishers, including the six major trade houses.

The numbers reflected a publishing industry where more books are available in more formats than ever before, and where consumers’ preferences continue to shift. Print formats were flat or decreasing, while e-books and downloadable audiobooks boomed.

“You’re seeing an evolution in terms of the way that people are accessing content,” said Dominique Raccah, a former chairwoman of the Book Industry Study Group and the publisher of Sourcebooks, a midsize publishing company in Naperville, Ill., outside Chicago. “Audio downloads are up, e-books are up. There’s a migration in format clearly occurring. Customers can now access books in a lot of different ways.”

Publishers’ revenue from brick-and-mortar retail stores suffered, dropping 7 percent to $7.5 billion, while revenue from online retailers like Amazon boomed, rising 21 percent, to $6.9 billion. The survey was the first glimpse of a full year of book sales after the bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders chain in 2011.

Sales of hardcover and trade paperback books were relatively flat: hardcovers accounted for just over $5 billion in 2012, up from $4.9 billion in 2011. Mass-market paperbacks, the smaller format of paperback popular in airports and grocery stores, also decreased in sales.

Another format that continued its rise in popularity was the downloadable audiobook, which had a 22 percent bump in revenues in 2012 compared with 2011, increasing to $240.7 million from $197.7 million. Publishers attributed the increase partly to the widespread use of mobile devices.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/business/media/e-book-sales-a-boon-to-publishers-in-2012.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Maria Shriver Returning to NBC as a ‘Special Anchor’

The announcement, made on the “Today” show on Tuesday morning, is a significant moment in Ms. Shriver’s move away from political life. Ms. Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, was the first lady of California while her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was governor from 2003 to 2011. She and Mr. Schwarzenegger separated in 2011 after he admitted that he had fathered a child with a member of their household staff a decade earlier.

Until Mr. Schwarzenegger ran for governor, Ms. Shriver was a familiar face on NBC as a correspondent on the network newsmagazine “Dateline.” Her formal homecoming was foreshadowed last month when she contributed to NBC’s coverage of the selection of the new pope.

“Through her reports, her books, her events, her activism and the powerful social community that she has built, Maria Shriver has become a leading voice for empowering women and inspiring all of us to be architects of change in our lives,” said Pat Fili-Krushel, the NBCUniversal News Group chairwoman, in a statement on Tuesday. “We are delighted that Maria will play such a key role in our efforts to examine this important topic, and all of us at the NBC family are excited to welcome her home.”

In Ms. Shriver’s new role, she will not appear regularly on any one NBC program, but will be on a variety of them and will produce and anchor prime-time special reports. Her appearances will not be limited to NBC’s network news programs; they could also come on the cable channels MSNBC and CNBC and on the company’s sports shows. Her other title will be editor at large for women’s issues for the Web sites owned by NBC News, indicating that she will contribute to those as well.

Responding to questions via e-mail on Tuesday, Ms. Shriver said she worked with Ms. Fili-Krushel “and the NBC News team to create a new role that supported the work I’ve been doing and allowed me to take it all forward.”

NBC briefly partnered with Ms. Shriver in 2009 when she published a study titled “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” about the increase of women in the workplace and its effects. When the next such report is released next year, NBC will have “exclusive broadcast access” to it, the network said in a news release.

Ms. Shriver will remain in Los Angeles, and she said that she would not give up any of her outside work.

While the NBC positions are not full time, Ms. Shriver said, “knowing me and my love of reporting, I imagine it will fully occupy my mind.”

She added: “I see it as a partnership that will evolve over time and give me an ongoing outlet for many of the stories I want to tell. Like so many women, I’m trying to craft a life that allows me to do meaningful work and keep a focus on my family, which will always be my No. 1 job.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/01/business/media/maria-shriver-to-return-to-nbc-news.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Japanese Still Seeking Link in 787 Battery Incidents

Akinobu Yokoyama, a spokesman for Japan’s Transport Safety Board, said it was still not clear whether a short-circuit or other malfunction occurred within one or more of the eight cells in the new lithium-ion battery.

His comments in an interview came a day after Deborah Hersman, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the problems on the Boston jet seemed to have originated in the battery. She said one of the cells had a short-circuit that created a “thermal runaway” as it cascaded through the rest of the cells, heating the battery to 500 degrees.

Given that the problems on the innovative jets occurred just nine days apart, it is crucial for investigators to determine whether they started in a similar manner. If the incidents seem to parallel one another, it could be easier for Boeing and its regulators to find a fix than if they are dealing with two different problems.

The Japanese investigation started later than the American one. Mr. Yokoyama said it was “not appropriate to talk yet about whether proximity of the cells within the battery is a structural problem or a cause of the battery malfunctions.”

“By looking at the battery, it is obvious there was a thermal runaway,” he said. “But we have yet to determine with any certainty why that happened.”

Ms. Hersman said Thursday that American investigators still did not know what caused the short-circuit in the cell of the battery in the Boston jet. She also said that in certifying the lithium-ion batteries in 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration accepted test results from Boeing that seriously underestimated the risk of smoke or fire.

The 787 is the first commercial plane to use large lithium-ion batteries for major flight functions. The batteries are more volatile than conventional nickel-cadmium batteries, but they weigh less and create more power, contributing to a 20 percent gain in fuel economy over older planes.

All 50 of the 787s that have been delivered so far have been grounded since mid-January.

That has also stopped Boeing from delivering more of the planes. Two European carriers, Thomson Airways and Norwegian Air Shuttle, said Friday that Boeing had notified them that the deliveries they had expected soon would be delayed.

Boeing’s rival, Airbus, plans to use smaller — and it says safer — lithium-ion batteries in its next-generation A350 jets, which will compete with the 787. Airbus reiterated Friday that it was watching to see how the investigations of the Boeing battery turned out.

“There is nothing that prevents us from going back to a classical battery on the A350, which we’ve been studying in parallel to the lithium battery from the beginning,” said Justin Dubon, an Airbus spokesman in Toulouse, France.

Nicola Clark contributed reporting from Paris.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/business/japanese-still-seeking-link-in-787-battery-incidents.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Why S.E.C. Is Likely to Miss Deadline on Rules for Crowdfunding

The “game changer,” as President Obama put it in the Rose Garden as he signed the bill, was a provision to allow small companies to “crowdfund” — that is, to sell stock and other securities over the Internet directly to the general public. “For the first time,” the president said, “ordinary Americans will be able to go online and invest in entrepreneurs that they believe in.”

But it now seems that dawn will break late on this new age of democratic investing. The Securities and Exchange Commission appears certain to miss its end-of-year deadline for issuing regulations to put the provision into effect. And with the departure of the S.E.C. chairwoman, Mary L. Schapiro, and three of her top deputies — including two who manage the offices writing the regulations — some in the nascent equity crowdfunding industry worry that it could be 2014 before their line of business becomes legal.

The delay has frustrated many crowdfunding backers. The 270 days that Congress gave the S.E.C. to write the rules “is not a suggested timeline; it is a Congressional mandate,” said Kim Wales, an organizer at Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Advocates, a lobbying group formed in April to represent the new industry, in an e-mailed statement. “The S.E.C. answers to Congress, not the other way around.”

The crowdfunding provision, Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, creates an exception to the general rule that before a company can sell its stock to the public, it must register with the S.E.C., a process of disclosure requiring elaborate and expensive assistance from lawyers, accountants and investment bankers that most small companies cannot afford. Instead, businesses seeking less than $1 million will be able to raise capital online from small investors in a streamlined process.

But the law insists on strong investor protections, and as a result, the S.E.C. must iron out numerous issues concerning how crowdfunding companies, the intermediaries handling the transactions and even investors themselves can operate.

Small businesses, especially start-ups, are notoriously risky; in essence, the S.E.C. is writing rules that will govern a very dangerous game. “It’s actually a significant job to do the regulations in this area, so it was an unrealistic expectation that the S.E.C. would have it completed by now,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America, which is lobbying the agency on other aspects of the Jobs Act. “I think they have 21 or 22 separate regulations to write.”

S.E.C. employees began accepting comments from and arranging meetings with interested members of the public about crowdfunding shortly after the Jobs Act became law. In those meetings, agency officials “have come in with our white papers fully highlighted, line by line, to discuss it,” said Alon Hillel-Tuch, co-founder and chief financial officer at RocketHub, a crowdfunding site that lets people and businesses raise money through donations or by offering rewards. (Current law allows sites to accept donations or deposits on a product.)

A spokeswoman for Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who largely wrote the crowdfunding measure, said that the S.E.C. was grappling with the more stringent requirements courts had imposed for conducting cost-benefit analyses when writing regulations. This “has slowed down everything from Dodd-Frank to the Jobs Act,” the spokeswoman, Courtney Warner Crowell, said in an e-mail.

With meaningful data for analyzing equity crowdfunding in short supply, the S.E.C. asked RocketHub and Indiegogo, another donation-based crowdfunding service, to provide information about their operating practices and campaigns they had conducted. RocketHub complied, Mr. Hillel-Tuch said. But Indiegogo did not, said Slava Rubin, the company’s chief executive, because it did not want to share trade secrets.

Mr. Hillel-Tuch said S.E.C. officials also requested help from Kickstarter, another leading crowdfunding site. Officials spoke with a Kickstarter executive in July, but neither the agency nor Kickstarter would comment on the meeting.

Under Title III, companies wishing to sell stock to the public will have to provide information to investors and the S.E.C., including financial disclosures that grow more extensive as the size of the offerings increases. They will be allowed to sell stock only through an intermediary: either a broker-dealer or a specialized crowdfunding Web site, or portal. The intermediaries will have to take steps to ensure that small investors are protected, even from themselves. The law sets a cap on how much a person can invest through crowdfunding in a year, depending on income and net worth.

Advocates for both investors and members of the crowdfunding industry have dissected nearly every element of the legislation. “I think there are probably 25 or 30 legitimately important issues,” said Douglas S. Ellenoff, a New York securities lawyer who is advising some in the industry. “But I think they’ve all been hashed out. They have heard issues from a variety of angles, and I think that the draft proposals are fairly advanced.”

High on the list of priorities for the portals is to make sure they face less scrutiny from regulators than broker-dealers do. “What we’re asking for is the funding portals are viewed as sort of a broker-dealer-lite sort of model, where the mandates for broker-dealers are not imposed on a funding portal,” said Ms. Wales, the crowdfunding lobbyist.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/27/business/smallbusiness/why-the-sec-is-likely-to-miss-its-deadline-to-write-crowdfunding-rules.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Board Pay Rises 49% at British Companies

LONDON — Executives at Britain’s biggest companies received an average pay increase of 49 percent this year, with compensation rising faster than companies’ shares.

The annual average pay of executives, including chief executives and finance chiefs, at Britain’s 100 largest publicly listed companies rose to £2.7 million, or $4.3 million, according to research by Incomes Data Services published Friday. Chief executives received an average 43.5 percent pay increase, to £3.9 million, the report said. The FTSE 100 share index rose 15.8 percent in the period from February last year to April 2011.

“Britain’s economy may be struggling to return to pre-recession levels of output, but the same cannot be said of FTSE 100 directors’ remuneration,” Steve Tatton, editor of the report, said in a statement. The pay includes salary, benefits, bonuses and long-term incentive plans.

Deborah Hargreaves, chairwoman of the High Pay Commission, an independent group that examines private sector pay, told BBC radio that it was “very hard to justify these sorts of pay increases” and that it was in the interest of the executives to keep the market rate for their positions high.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=643277b00ae630e7203e29f9395a7047

David Becker, Ex-S.E.C. Lawyer, Defends Madoff Role

David M. Becker, the former general counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told Congress on Thursday that he had done nothing wrong in handling the agency’s work related to Bernard L. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Mr. Becker, testifying before two Congressional panels, said he had done “precisely what I was supposed to do” in disclosing to S.E.C. officials his connection to a Madoff account. He is under scrutiny because he advised the agency on formulas to compensate Madoff clients, even though he had been a beneficiary of the scheme.

The connection was examined in a report released this week by the inspector general of the S.E.C., H. David Kotz, who referred Mr. Becker’s actions to the Justice Department for an investigation of possible violations of conflict-of-interest laws.

The scrutiny of Mr. Becker, which began in February when it became publicly known that he had inherited money from a Madoff account in 2004, has divided the regulatory community. Some parties say his financial interest should have been reason enough for him to stay out of Madoff-related decisions.

Still other S.E.C. hands say that he behaved properly by disclosing the matter to several commission officials and that the criticism of him is part of a broader effort to discredit an agency with an important role in the markets.

On Thursday, 52 lawyers sent a letter defending Mr. Becker to the lawmakers leading the hearing. Among the lawyers were many former S.E.C. officials, including Harvey Pitt, a former chairman, and a former adviser to the current chairwoman, Mary L. Schapiro. Many of those former officials deal with the S.E.C. in their current private practices.

Ms. Schapiro and Mr. Kotz testified before Mr. Becker. She said that when Mr. Becker began she thought the ethics officer’s clearance of his situation was enough, but that now she realized that “as chairman, I need to have a broader vision that goes beyond what may be required in any particular situation.”

She added: “I can say to you with assuredness that we have learned from this experience.”

The Becker matter is another sore spot for an agency that has been working to repair its reputation since it failed to spot the Madoff Ponzi scheme. Ms. Schapiro has overseen a reorganization of the S.E.C.’s enforcement unit, among other reform initiatives, but embarrassing news has continued to emerge, like indications that some enforcement documents were routinely destroyed in recent years.

The inspector general’s report raised questions about the commission’s ethics practices, highlighting decisions made by Ms. Schapiro as well as the commission’s former ethics officer, William Lenox. Mr. Becker told both of them about his Madoff connection, the report confirmed, and they allowed him to work on the payout formulas nonetheless. Though Mr. Becker told numerous S.E.C. officials about the matter, the four commissioners of the agency — other than Ms. Schapiro — were not told, according to the report.

Lawmakers were highly critical of Ms. Schapiro for permitting Mr. Becker to work on some Madoff matters and for not telling the other four commissioners about Mr. Becker’s financial connection to Mr. Madoff.

Randy Neugebauer, the Texas Republican who leads the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the financial services committee, pointed out that the S.E.C. had canceled an appearance to a Congressional committee after deciding that Mr. Becker would have disclosed his Madoff tie there.

“I was a little confused why you felt like it was important that he disclose that to Congress but not disclose it to your commission members,” he said.

Ms. Schapiro said she had not tried to hide it from the other commissioners, but since the ethics officer had cleared Mr. Becker, it was not shared with them. She said issues that were not deemed to be conflicts were not normally shared with the full roster of commissioners.

Mr. Becker, who left the commission in February, told lawmakers that he had informed the appropriate officials at the commission about the potential conflict and followed their advice, according to his prepared testimony. In his work on the formulas, he wrote in his prepared remarks, “it never occurred to me to look after my financial interest.” And, he wrote, he had taken a pay cut in 2009 to rejoin the S.E.C., where he had previously worked as general counsel, and that he “forfeited millions of dollars to serve my country.”

Mr. Becker also wrote that he came back to the commission partly because of his high regard for Ms. Schapiro, whom he referred to as “my friend.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=bc665e7dd87d8c3e76b94329c4dec15c

N.L.R.B. Eases Unionizing at Nursing Homes

The National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday released a decision that would make it easier to unionize nursing home workers.

It is the latest in a flurry of moves favorable to unions that the board completed before the term of its chairwoman, Wilma B. Liebman, expired on Sunday. The board released two other pro-union decisions on Tuesday, both reversing decisions issued under President George W. Bush.

In the nursing home decision, the board ruled that the union, the United Steelworkers, could organize just the 53 certified nursing assistants at a nursing home in Mobile, Ala., as part of one bargaining unit, without including the home’s 33 other nonprofessional workers, including janitors, cooks and file clerks.

Groups representing businesses and nursing home operators attacked the decision, fearing it would make the homes more vulnerable to unionization drives.

“This ruling makes it easier for unions to gerrymander who is in a bargaining unit to help them be successful in organizing,” said Michael J. Eastman, executive director of labor law policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce.

In the Alabama case, known as Specialty Healthcare, the board reversed a 1991 ruling and stated that the potential bargaining unit for employees at nonacute health care facilities would be based on the same “community of interest” standard used at other workplaces. Under that standard, bargaining units would generally be based on whether employees had similar responsibilities, supervisors, skills, working conditions and pay scales.

In a 3-1 decision, the majority said the 1991 ruling was obsolete and inconsistent with the aims of the National Labor Relations Act. The majority consisted of three Democrats: Ms. Liebman, Craig Becker and Mark G. Pearce, the board’s new chairman.

The board’s sole Republican, Brian E. Hayes, said the decision “fundamentally changed the standard for determining” who should be in a bargaining unit. “The majority is making sweeping changes to established law through this adjudication,” he wrote. “This initiative puts our agency beyond the pale of reasoned adjudication.”

Mr. Hayes asserted that the new approach would encourage the unionization of units as small as possible, which he said conflicted with the labor act’s aims.

Responding to Mr. Hayes, the majority wrote, “Our decision adheres to well-established principles of bargaining unit determination reflected in the language of the act and decades of board and judicial precedent.”

Greg Crist, spokesman for the American Health Care Association, which represents thousands of nursing homes, criticized the ruling. “The board used this case to legislate from a political perch,” he said. “The board should be helping our workers continue to deliver quality health care, not disrupting them.”

Lynn Rhinehart, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s general counsel, applauded the three rulings issued on Tuesday. “These are mainstream decisions, consistent with the purpose of the National Labor Relations Act,” she said. “These are not radical. What was radical was the Bush board overturning decades of precedent to invent new rules.”

One of the two other decisions reversed a board ruling from 2007, when the Bush administration was in power. That ruling allowed workers opposed to a union to seek a decertification vote immediately after an employer granted recognition to a union after showing that a majority of employees had signed cards supporting a union. (Typically 30 percent of employees need to petition to hold such a vote.) The majority wrote that henceforth workers must wait “a reasonable period” — likely six months to a year — after a union gains recognition to hold a decertification vote.

The third ruling reversed a 2002 board decision, also during the Bush era, that created an immediate window for a decertification vote after there was a change of ownership at a unionized company. Under the new ruling, the union relationship would be protected for at least six months before a decertification vote could be held.

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