By Jeff Mason
WARREN, Mich (Reuters) – Three former chairmen of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Wednesday, bolstering the Illinois senatorâ€™s economic credentials and bipartisan appeal as he closes in on his partyâ€™s nomination.
Former SEC head William Donaldson, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, joined Arthur Levitt and David Ruder in backing Obama, who leads rival Hillary Clinton in the number of delegates necessary to become the Democratic White House nominee.
Levitt was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, while Ruder was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.
All three commended Obama for his approach to regulation.
â€œEach of us has been committed to prudent economic policy and effective financial regulation for many years,â€ they said in a joint statement along with former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, also an Obama supporter.
â€œWe believe Senator Obama can provide the positive leadership and judgment needed to take us to a stronger and more secure economic future.â€
In the statement they praised Obamaâ€™s â€œreasoned approachâ€ in analyzing â€œthe current financial crisis and the need for balanced regulatory reform.â€
â€œWe believe that such a constructive approach can be extended broadly in the economic area as well as elsewhere,â€ they said.
Obama has distinguished his economic policies from Clinton, a New York senator, and Republican candidate John McCain, an Arizona senator, in recent weeks by opposing a reprieve on a gasoline tax over the upcoming summer months.
On Tuesday, he compared conditions during the Great Depression to the current U.S. housing crisis, blaming both in part on poor financial regulation. He has promised better regulation of mortgage lenders and other financial institutions.
Donaldson, who led the SEC for about 18 months during Bushâ€™s administration, repeatedly aligned himself with two Democratic commissioners to adopt new rules regulating hedge funds and mutual funds.
Investors welcomed his activism when the Enron and WorldCom scandals were unfolding, but the business community opposed his initiatives.
Donaldson, the founder of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette and former chief executive of Aetna Inc, also helped get the new Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform law underway and steered an agency crackdown on companies that broke securities rules.
Obama said he would work with his new backers to fight the nationâ€™s economic ills.
â€œI am honored to have the support of such a distinguished group of financial leaders,â€ he said in a statement.
â€œThey understand the depth of our current economic problems and that we need to rise above the old politics if we are to build a stronger, more secure economic future. I look forward to working with them to achieve that goal.â€
(Additional reporting by Julie Vorman, editing by Vicki Allen)
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters â€œTales from the Trail: 2008â€ online at http:/blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)