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SEC Nominee Cox Readies for Next Transition

The ability to navigate political waters without losing sight of his core philosophy is a trait Cox has possessed at least since graduate school at Harvard in the mid-1970s, when his conservative political leanings left him outnumbered, said classmate and fellow Republican Jerry Raymond.

"We did talk about and commiserate about some of the frustrations of believing in limited government, that the cost of government intervention was often not recognized in terms of liberty," Raymond said.

Cox was legendary among his law review colleagues for planning West Coast job interviews around Fridays and Mondays so he could attend University of Southern California football games, friends said. Cox graduated from USC with a double major in political science and English. He also studied Russian.

His language skills came in handy when Cox nudged his father, Charles, out of retirement from the printing business in 1984 to form a venture that would publish an English version of Pravda, the Soviet Union's preeminent newspaper and propaganda organ. The translation was a way to show Americans the limited way in which Soviets were living at the time.

But the operation had trouble meeting payroll, and Cox's father sought to take the company public to generate cash, according to a 1988 prospectus filed with the SEC. The business was dissolved in 1992, according to securities filings in Delaware.

After graduating from Harvard, Cox spent a year working for a federal judge, then joined the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, rising to partner.

Cox's representation of a California company, First Pension Corp., while he was a corporate lawyer at Latham may come under scrutiny at his confirmation hearing, Democratic Senate aides said. Three officials with ties to the company eventually served prison time for fraud. The firm, Cox, and other lawyers were sued by plaintiffs representing investors who lost about $130 million in the collapse of First Pension. Lawyers for the investors argued that Cox and others knew or should have known the company was a scam, based on legal reviews and other work they performed.

Ultimately, Cox was dismissed from the case, which he noted at the time was filed during intense publicity over his effort in Congress to crack down on shareholder lawsuits. Latham settled before trial for an undisclosed amount. Cox later returned $2,000 in campaign contributions from William E. Cooper, First Pension's founder.

Though he's spent more than 20 years in California, Cox grew up with his four sisters in Highland Park, an upper-middle-class neighborhood in St. Paul.

"You couldn't find more of a Jerry Mathers look-alike," said high school friend Tim Lippert, now an investment banker.

Cox caught the political bug during his first stint in Washington -- a job in the White House counsel's office of President Reagan between 1986 and 1988, where he handled budget and tax initiatives. Cox left to run for an open House seat in California, enlisting Russian comic Yakov Smirnoff to campaign for him. He developed a reputation for doing his homework and grasping the details of policy issues, said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.).

Cox and his wife Rebecca, a Continental Airlines lobbyist, have two boys and a girl. They split their time between homes in California and Virginia.

If he wins Senate approval, Cox would finish his predecessor's term, which expires in 2007. He could seek to be renominated for another five-year stint.

Finley, the longtime friend and St. Paul lawyer, said the SEC post would leave Cox with plenty of options down the road.

"It's a good way for him, if he decides over time to leave the public sector, a good place to exit from," he said. "And if he decides to go back to public sector, it will enhance the luster of his resume."

Washington Post researchers Richard Drezen, Carmen Chapin and Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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