(Bloomberg) -- The Congressional Black Caucus is taking the unusual step of backing a candidate to head the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a U.S. audit watchdog charged with protecting investors from financial frauds.
In a letter sent this week to Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler, the group of 57 lawmakers in the House and Senate threw their support behind Erica Williams, an African American partner at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm in Washington and an SEC veteran.
The PCAOB, which polices accounting firms, has never had a non-White member on its five-member governing board. The regulator has been in turmoil since June when the SEC fired its Republican chairman. The SEC is now picking a successor; the job pays $673,000 a year, making it one of the highest-paid positions among financial regulators.
“Many of the nascent investors in public companies are often non-traditional investors, many of whom are Black, women, or fall into other classes who have very little experience” with finance and accounting, Representative Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat and the caucus chair, wrote to Gensler on behalf of the group on Aug. 2. “We believe that Ms. Williams brings an appreciation of this fact to her work that gives our caucus the confidence to make a rare endorsement.”
Read More: Chairman’s Firing Is Latest Jolt at Troubled Financial Watchdog
Williams, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, spent more than a decade at the SEC where she was the deputy chief of staff for three chairs. She also worked for the agency’s enforcement division and in the White House as an associate counsel to President Barack Obama.
An SEC spokeswoman declined to comment.
The SEC removed PCAOB Chairman William Duhnke III following complaints about his management style and a campaign for his ouster by progressive Democrats. As part of an overhaul, the SEC is also seeking applicants for the audit regulator’s four other board seats -- officials who make $547,000 annually.
While the watchdog’s high salaries are meant to attract people who have deep understanding of the accounting profession, they have also made the PCAOB a plum spot for the politically connected. For instance, Duhnke was a former aide to Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby before being tapped to lead the board. The regulator was created by Congress in 2002 in the wake of the Enron Corp. accounting scandal.
Other candidates under consideration to run it include Kara Stein, a former Democratic SEC commissioner and Martin Gruenberg, a Democrat on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board, people familiar with the matter have said.
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