Hailed by Chairman William Proxmire (D-Wise.) as a "smashing success in business" and a "brilliant choice" to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Harold M. Williams yesterday coasted through a brief hearing on his nomination by the Senate Banking Committee.
The committee recommended unanimously that Williams, 49, be confirmed by the Senate. A vote is expected today.
From Williams, the committee moved on to another SEC-related matter - illegal payments to foreigners by U.S. corporations - and handled it with nearly the same dispatch.
The committee voted to impose stiff fines on corporations and their officials found guilty of foreign bribery, and prison terms for involved executives. Last year, the Senate passed a bill making foreign bribery a federal crime, but the House failed to act on the measure. This year's version, which followed recommendations by the White House, is tougher in several aspects.
Under last year's version, corporations, could be fined $10,000 on conviction; the new bill calls for ines of $500,000 and prison terms of up to five years.
The measure would also make it a crime to falsify a company's books in order to cover up bribery.
The legislation grew out of revelations in recent years of questionable or illegal payments to foreign officials and agents by U.S. corporations. Many corporations voluntarily revealed such payments to the SEC. A number of companies have been sued by the commission over payments.
Another section of the bill would require foreign nationals holding 5 per cent or more of a company's stock to report their nationality to the company.
Currently, when an individual or institution acquires 5 per cent or more of a company the SEC must be informed. But if less than 2 per cent is purchased yearly, no reporting is necessary until a total of 10 per cent of the stock is acquired.
The new legislation would eliminate the reporting exemption for gradual acquisitions of stock.
The bill also authorizes a study of disclosure processes and requirements at the SEC.
During the hearing on the Williams nomination, both the nominee and the only two committee members who were present - Proxmire and Harrison Williams (D-N.J.) - agreed that raising capital was the most serious problem facing business today.
All three fingered tax policies and inflation as the major causes of capital shortage by industry. Harold Williams termed the federal income tax "dysfunctional." Proxmire went even further, labeling federal corporate income taxes "featherbedding" and calling for their gradual abolition.
The nominee said he plans no changes in the SEC's enforcement division, which investigates and prosecutes corporations and their executives for illegalities. Its broadening license is often attacked by businessmen and the legal profession, but Proxmire praised it yesterday as the most effective such division at any agency.
Williams is dean of the University of California at Los Angeles, graduate school of management, which he joined in 1970 after leaving Norton Simon, Inc., where he was chairman.
If confirmed, as expected, Williams will succeed Roderick Hills, who has been SEC chairman since October, 1975.
He will serve the balance of Hills' term, which expires June 5, and an additional five-year term expiring 1982.
One vacancy remains for President Carter to fill on the five-man commission.