Both chambers of Congress on Thursday passed by landslide majorities (522 votes to 3 in aggregate) a new bill to clamp down on the recently uncovered spate of corporate abuses.

The bill now goes to President George W Bush for signature – for which his pen is already poised, having hailed the bill as “a good piece of legislation”.

The record speed at which the bill was introduced and enacted is almost without precedent other than at times of national crisis. According to insiders, so great was politicos’ fear that recent and current business scandals would undermine investor confidence and bring about a 1929-style stock market crash, that even Republican rightwingers bit the bullet over concerns at the bill’s ultra-tough line on business.

The legislation (covered in detail in today’s Wall Street Journal) is intended to eliminate deceptive accounting and management practices. It requires a far greater degree of transparency in the presentation of accounts, introduces new oversight procedures, instigates harsher penalties for miscreants, and sets up a restitution fund for wronged shareholders. It will also hold auditors and bankers accountable for complicity in such cases.

The compensation fund will be financed by fines from any illicit gains by wayward executives. The bill also creates a regulatory framework offering new grounds for aggrieved investors to go to court – and within a wider time frame.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff