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The Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 (Pub.L. 107-204, 116 Stat. 745, enacted July 29, 2002), also known as the 'Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act' (in the Senate) and 'Corporate and Auditing Accountability and Responsibility Act' (in the House) and more commonly called Sarbanes–Oxley, Sarbox or SOX, is a United States federal law that set new or enhanced standards for all U.S. public company boards, management and public accounting firms. It is named after sponsors U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and U.S. Representative Michael G. Oxley (R-OH).
The bill was enacted as a reaction to a number of major corporate and accounting scandals including those affecting Enron, Tyco International, Adelphia, Peregrine Systems and WorldCom. These scandals, which cost investors billions of dollars when the share prices of affected companies collapsed, shook public confidence in the nation's securities markets.
The act contains 11 titles, or sections, ranging from additional corporate board responsibilities to criminal penalties, and requires the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to implement rulings on requirements to comply with the law. Harvey Pitt, the 26th chairman of the SEC, led the SEC in the adoption of dozens of rules to implement the Sarbanes–Oxley Act. It created a new, quasi-public agency, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or PCAOB, charged with overseeing, regulating, inspecting and disciplining accounting firms in their roles as auditors of public companies. The act also covers issues such as auditor independence, corporate governance, internal control assessment, and enhanced financial disclosure. The nonprofit arm of Financial Executives International (FEI), Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), completed extensive research studies to help support the foundations of the act.
The act was approved by the House by a vote of 423 in favor, 3 opposed, and 8 abstaining and by the Senate with a vote of 99 in favor, 1 abstaining. President George W. Bush signed it into law, stating it included "the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The era of low standards and false profits is over; no boardroom in America is above or beyond the law."
In response to the perception that stricter financial governance laws are needed, SOX-type laws have been subsequently enacted in Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, India, South Africa, and Turkey.
Debate continues over the perceived benefits and costs of SOX. Opponents of the bill claim it has reduced America's international competitive edge against foreign financial service providers, saying SOX has introduced an overly complex regulatory environment into U.S. financial markets. Proponents of the measure say that SOX has been a "godsend" for improving the confidence of fund managers and other investors with regard to the veracity of corporate financial statements.
Sarbanes–Oxley contains 11 titles that describe specific mandates and requirements for financial reporting. Each title consists of several sections, summarized below.
A variety of complex factors created the conditions and culture in which a series of large corporate frauds occurred between 2000–2002. The spectacular, highly-publicized frauds at Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco exposed significant problems with conflicts of interest and incentive compensation practices. The analysis of their complex and contentious root causes contributed to the passage of SOX in 2002. In a 2004 interview, Senator Paul Sarbanes stated:
"The Senate Banking Committee undertook a series of hearings on the problems in the markets that had led to a loss of hundreds and hundreds of billions, indeed trillions of dollars in market value. The hearings set out to lay the foundation for legislation. We scheduled 10 hearings over a six-week period, during which we brought in some of the best people in the country to testify...The hearings produced remarkable consensus on the nature of the problems: inadequate oversight of accountants, lack of auditor independence, weak corporate governance procedures, stock analysts' conflict of interests, inadequate disclosure provisions, and grossly inadequate funding of the Securities and Exchange Commission."
The House passed Rep. Oxley's bill (H.R. 3763) on April 24, 2002, by a vote of 334 to 90. The House then referred the "Corporate and Auditing Accountability, Responsibility, and Transparency Act" or "CAARTA" to the Senate Banking Committee with the support of President George W. Bush and the SEC. At the time, however, the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), was preparing his own proposal, Senate Bill 2673.
Senator Sarbanes’ bill passed the Senate Banking Committee on June 18, 2002, by a vote of 17 to 4. On June 25, 2002, WorldCom revealed it had overstated its earnings by more than $3.8 billion during the past five quarters (15 months), primarily by improperly accounting for its operating costs. Sen. Sarbanes introduced Senate Bill 2673 to the full Senate that same day, and it passed 97–0 less than three weeks later on July 15, 2002.
The House and the Senate formed a Conference Committee to reconcile the differences between Sen. Sarbanes's bill (S. 2673) and Rep. Oxley's bill (H.R. 3763). The conference committee relied heavily on S. 2673 and “most changes made by the conference committee strengthened the prescriptions of S. 2673 or added new prescriptions.” (John T. Bostelman, The Sarbanes–Oxley Deskbook § 2–31.)
The Committee approved the final conference bill on July 24, 2002, and gave it the name "the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002." The next day, both houses of Congress voted on it without change, producing an overwhelming margin of victory: 423 to 3 in the House and 99 to 0 in the Senate. On July 30, 2002, President George W. Bush signed it into law, stating it included "the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt." 
A significant body of academic research and opinion exists regarding the costs and benefits of SOX, with significant differences in conclusions. This is due in part to the difficulty of isolating the impact of SOX from other variables affecting the stock market and corporate earnings. Conclusions from several of these studies and related criticism are summarized below:
Some have asserted that Sarbanes–Oxley legislation has helped displace business from New York to London, where the Financial Services Authority regulates the financial sector with a lighter touch. In the UK, the non-statutory Combined Code of Corporate Governance plays a somewhat similar role to SOX. See Howell E. Jackson & Mark J. Roe, “Public Enforcement of Securities Laws: Preliminary Evidence” (Working Paper January 16, 2007). London based Alternative Investment Market claims that its spectacular growth in listings almost entirely coincided with the Sarbanes Oxley legislation. In December 2006 Michael Bloomberg, New York's mayor, and Charles Schumer, a U.S. senator from New York, expressed their concern.
The Sarbanes–Oxley Act's effect on non-U.S. companies cross-listed in the U.S. is different on firms from developed and well regulated countries than on firms from less developed countries according to Kate Litvak. Companies from badly regulated countries see benefits that are higher than the costs from better credit ratings by complying to regulations in a highly regulated country (USA), but companies from developed countries only incur the costs, since transparency is adequate in their home countries as well. On the other hand, the benefit of better credit rating also comes with listing on other stock exchanges such as the London Stock Exchange.
Piotroski and Srinivasan (2008) examine a comprehensive sample of international companies that list onto U.S. and U.K. stock exchanges before and after the enactment of the Act in 2002. Using a sample of all listing events onto U.S. and U.K. exchanges from 1995–2006, they find that the listing preferences of large foreign firms choosing between U.S. exchanges and the LSE's Main Market did not change following SOX. In contrast, they find that the likelihood of a U.S. listing among small foreign firms choosing between the Nasdaq and LSE's Alternative Investment Market decreased following SOX. The negative effect among small firms is consistent with these companies being less able to absorb the incremental costs associated with SOX compliance. The screening of smaller firms with weaker governance attributes from U.S. exchanges is consistent with the heightened governance costs imposed by the Act increasing the bonding-related benefits of a U.S. listing.
Section 302 of the Act mandates a set of internal procedures designed to ensure accurate financial disclosure. The signing officers must certify that they are “responsible for establishing and maintaining internal controls” and “have designed such internal controls to ensure that material information relating to the company and its consolidated subsidiaries is made known to such officers by others within those entities, particularly during the period in which the periodic reports are being prepared.” . The officers must “have evaluated the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls as of a date within 90 days prior to the report” and “have presented in the report their conclusions about the effectiveness of their internal controls based on their evaluation as of that date.” Id..
The SEC interpreted the intention of Sec. 302 in Final Rule 33–8124. In it, the SEC defines the new term "disclosure controls and procedures," which are distinct from "internal controls over financial reporting." Under both Section 302 and Section 404, Congress directed the SEC to promulgate regulations enforcing these provisions.
External auditors are required to issue an opinion on whether effective internal control over financial reporting was maintained in all material respects by management. This is in addition to the financial statement opinion regarding the accuracy of the financial statements. The requirement to issue a third opinion regarding management's assessment was removed in 2007.
a.Rules To Prohibit. It shall be unlawful, in contravention of such rules or regulations as the Commission shall prescribe as necessary and appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors, for any officer or director of an issuer, or any other person acting under the direction thereof, to take any action to fraudulently influence, coerce, manipulate, or mislead any independent public or certified accountant engaged in the performance of an audit of the financial statements of that issuer for the purpose of rendering such financial statements materially misleading. 
The bankruptcy of Enron drew attention to off-balance sheet instruments that were used fraudulently. During 2010, the court examiner's review of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy also brought these instruments back into focus, as Lehman had used an instrument called "Repo 105" to allegedly move assets and debt off-balance sheet to make its financial position look more favorable to investors. Sarbanes-Oxley required the disclosure of all material off-balance sheet items. It also required an SEC study and report to better understand the extent of usage of such instruments and whether accounting principles adequately addressed these instruments; the SEC report was issued June 15, 2005. Interim guidance was issued in May 2006, which was later finalized. Critics argued the SEC did not take adequate steps to regulate and monitor this activity.
The most contentious aspect of SOX is Section 404, which requires management and the external auditor to report on the adequacy of the company's internal control on financial reporting (ICFR). This is the most costly aspect of the legislation for companies to implement, as documenting and testing important financial manual and automated controls requires enormous effort.
Under Section 404 of the Act, management is required to produce an “internal control report” as part of each annual Exchange Act report. See 15 U.S.C. § 7262. The report must affirm “the responsibility of management for establishing and maintaining an adequate internal control structure and procedures for financial reporting.” . The report must also “contain an assessment, as of the end of the most recent fiscal year of the Company, of the effectiveness of the internal control structure and procedures of the issuer for financial reporting.” To do this, managers are generally adopting an internal control framework such as that described in COSO.
To help alleviate the high costs of compliance, guidance and practice have continued to evolve. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) approved Auditing Standard No. 5 for public accounting firms on July 25, 2007. This standard superseded Auditing Standard No. 2, the initial guidance provided in 2004. The SEC also released its interpretive guidance  on June 27, 2007. It is generally consistent with the PCAOB's guidance, but intended to provide guidance for management. Both management and the external auditor are responsible for performing their assessment in the context of a top-down risk assessment, which requires management to base both the scope of its assessment and evidence gathered on risk. This gives management wider discretion in its assessment approach. These two standards together require management to:
SOX 404 compliance costs represent a tax on inefficiency, encouraging companies to centralize and automate their financial reporting systems. This is apparent in the comparative costs of companies with decentralized operations and systems, versus those with centralized, more efficient systems. For example, the 2007 FEI survey indicated average compliance costs for decentralized companies were $1.9 million, while centralized company costs were $1.3 million. Costs of evaluating manual control procedures are dramatically reduced through automation.
The cost of complying with SOX 404 impacts smaller companies disproportionately, as there is a significant fixed cost involved in completing the assessment. For example, during 2004 U.S. companies with revenues exceeding $5 billion spent 0.06% of revenue on SOX compliance, while companies with less than $100 million in revenue spent 2.55%.
This disparity is a focal point of 2007 SEC and U.S. Senate action. The PCAOB intends to issue further guidance to help companies scale their assessment based on company size and complexity during 2007. The SEC issued their guidance to management in June, 2007.
After the SEC and PCAOB issued their guidance, the SEC required smaller public companies (non-accelerated filers) with fiscal years ending after December 15, 2007 to document a Management Assessment of their Internal Controls over Financial Reporting (ICFR). Outside auditors of non-accelerated filers however opine or test internal controls under PCAOB (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) Auditing Standards for years ending after December 15, 2008. Another extension was granted by the SEC for the outside auditor assessment until years ending after December 15, 2009. The reason for the timing disparity was to address the House Committee on Small Business concern that the cost of complying with Section 404 of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 was still unknown and could therefore be disproportionately high for smaller publicly held companies. On October 2, 2009, the SEC granted another extension for the outside auditor assessment until fiscal years ending after June 15, 2010. The SEC stated in their release that the extension was granted so that the SEC’s Office of Economic Analysis could complete a study of whether additional guidance provided to company managers and auditors in 2007 was effective in reducing the costs of compliance. They also stated that there will be no further extensions in the future.
On September 15, 2010 the SEC issued final rule 33-9142 the permanently exempts registrants that are neither accelerated nor large accelerated filers as defined by Rule 12b-2 of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 from Section 404(b) internal control audit requirement.
Section 802(a) of the SOX,states:
|“||Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.||”|
§ 1350. Section 906 states: Failure of corporate officers to certify financial reports
(a) Certification of Periodic Financial Reports.— Each periodic report containing financial statements filed by an issuer with the Securities Exchange Commission pursuant to section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. 78m (a) or 78o (d)) shall be accompanied bySection 802(a) of the SOX a written statement by the chief executive officer and chief financial officer (or equivalent thereof) of the issuer.
(b) Content.— The statement required under subsection (a) shall certify that the periodic report containing the financial statements fully complies with the requirements of section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of  1934 (15 U.S.C. 78m or 78o (d)) and that information contained in the periodic report fairly presents, in all material respects, the financial condition and results of operations of the issuer.
(c) Criminal Penalties.— Whoever— (1) certifies any statement as set forth in subsections (a) and (b) of this section knowing that the periodic report accompanying the statement does not comport with all the requirements set forth in this section shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both; or
(2) willfully certifies any statement as set forth in subsections (a) and (b) of this section knowing that the periodic report accompanying the statement does not comport with all the requirements set forth in this section shall be fined not more than $5,000,000, or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. 
Section 1107 of the SOX states:
|“||Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any federal offense, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.||”|
Congressman Ron Paul and others such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee have contended that SOX was an unnecessary and costly government intrusion into corporate management that places U.S. corporations at a competitive disadvantage with foreign firms, driving businesses out of the United States. In an April 14, 2005 speech before the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul stated, "These regulations are damaging American capital markets by providing an incentive for small US firms and foreign firms to deregister from US stock exchanges. According to a study by a researcher at the Wharton Business School, the number of American companies deregistering from public stock exchanges nearly tripled during the year after Sarbanes–Oxley became law, while the New York Stock Exchange had only 10 new foreign listings in all of 2004. The reluctance of small businesses and foreign firms to register on American stock exchanges is easily understood when one considers the costs Sarbanes–Oxley imposes on businesses. According to a survey by Korn/Ferry International, Sarbanes–Oxley cost Fortune 500 companies an average of $5.1 million in compliance expenses in 2004, while a study by the law firm of Foley and Lardner found the Act increased costs associated with being a publicly held company by 130 percent." 
A research study published by Joseph Piotroski of Stanford University and Suraj Srinivasan of Harvard Business School titled "Regulation and Bonding: Sarbanes Oxley Act and the Flow of International Listings" in the Journal of Accounting Research in 2008 found that following the act's passage, smaller international companies were more likely to list in stock exchanges in the U.K. rather than U.S. stock exchanges.
During the financial crisis of 2007–2010, critics blamed Sarbanes–Oxley for the low number of Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) on American stock exchanges during 2008. In November 2008, Newt Gingrich and co-author David W. Kralik called on Congress to repeal Sarbanes–Oxley.
A December 21, 2008 Wall St. Journal editorial stated, "The new laws and regulations have neither prevented frauds nor instituted fairness. But they have managed to kill the creation of new public companies in the U.S., cripple the venture capital business, and damage entrepreneurship. According to the National Venture Capital Association, in all of 2008 there have been just six companies that have gone public. Compare that with 269 IPOs in 1999, 272 in 1996, and 365 in 1986." (According to Hoover's IPO Scorecard, however, 31, not six companies went public on the major U.S. stock exchanges in 2008, a year when the economy was much worse than 2007 (when 209 companies went public) or 2006 (205 IPOs).)
The editorial concludes that: "For all of this, we can first thank Sarbanes–Oxley. Cooked up in the wake of accounting scandals earlier this decade, it has essentially killed the creation of new public companies in America, hamstrung the NYSE and Nasdaq (while making the London Stock Exchange rich), and cost U.S. industry more than $200 billion by some estimates." 
However, the number of IPOs had declined to 87 in 2001, well down from the highs, but before Sarbanes–Oxley was passed. In 2004, IPOs were up 195% from the previous year to 233. There were 196 IPOs in 2005, 205 in 2006 (with a sevenfold increase in deals over $1 billion) and 209 in 2007.
A 2012 Wall St. Journal editorial stated, "One reason the U.S. economy isn't creating enough jobs is that it's not creating enough employers... For the third year in a row the world's leading exchange for new stock offerings was located not in New York, but in Hong Kong... Given that the U.S. is still home to the world's largest economy, there's no reason it shouldn't have the most vibrant equity markets—unless regulation is holding back the creation of new public companies. On that score it's getting harder for backers of the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting law to explain away each disappointing year since its 2002 enactment as some kind of temporary or unrelated setback."
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan praised the Sarbanes–Oxley Act: "I am surprised that the Sarbanes–Oxley Act, so rapidly developed and enacted, has functioned as well as it has...the act importantly reinforced the principle that shareholders own our corporations and that corporate managers should be working on behalf of shareholders to allocate business resources to their optimum use.”
SOX has been praised by a cross-section of financial industry experts, citing improved investor confidence and more accurate, reliable financial statements. The CEO and CFO are now required to unequivocally take ownership for their financial statements under Section 302, which was not the case prior to SOX. Further, auditor conflicts of interest have been addressed, by prohibiting auditors from also having lucrative consulting agreements with the firms they audit under Section 201. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox stated in 2007: "Sarbanes–Oxley helped restore trust in U.S. markets by increasing accountability, speeding up reporting, and making audits more independent."
The FEI 2007 study and research by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) also indicate SOX has improved investor confidence in financial reporting, a primary objective of the legislation. The IIA study also indicated improvements in board, audit committee, and senior management engagement in financial reporting and improvements in financial controls.
Financial restatements increased significantly in the wake of the SOX legislation, as companies "cleaned up" their books. Glass, Lewis & Co. LLC is a San Francisco-based firm that tracks the volume of do-overs by public companies. Its March 2006 report, "Getting It Wrong the First Time," shows 1,295 restatements of financial earnings in 2005 for companies listed on U.S. securities markets, almost twice the number for 2004. "That's about one restatement for every 12 public companies—up from one for every 23 in 2004," says the report.
One fraud uncovered by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in November 2009  may be directly credited to Sarbanes-Oxley. The fraud, which spanned nearly 20 years and involved over $24 million, was committed by Value Line (NASDAQ: VALU) against its mutual fund shareholders. The fraud was first reported to the SEC in 2004 by the Value Line Fund (NASDAQ: VLIFX) portfolio manager who was asked to sign a Code of Business Ethics as part of SOX. Restitution totalling $34 million will be placed in a fair fund and returned to the affected Value Line mutual fund investors. No criminal charges have been filed.
Sarbanes Oxley Act has been praised for nurturing an ethical culture as it forces top management to be transparent and employees to be responsible for their acts and also protects whistle blowers.
A lawsuit (Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) was filed in 2006 challenging the constitutionality of the PCAOB. The complaint argues that because the PCAOB has regulatory powers over the accounting industry, its officers should be appointed by the President, rather than the SEC. Further, because the law lacks a "severability clause," if part of the law is judged unconstitutional, so is the remainder. If the plaintiff prevails, the U.S. Congress may have to devise a different method of officer appointment. Further, the other parts of the law may be open to revision. The lawsuit was dismissed from a District Court; the decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals on August 22, 2008. Judge Kavanaugh, in his dissent, argued strongly against the constitutionality of the law. On May 18, 2009, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear this case. On December 7, 2009, it heard the oral arguments. On June 28, 2010, the United States Supreme Court unanimously turned away a broad challenge to the law, but ruled 5–4 that a section related to appointments violates the Constitution's separation of powers mandate. The act remains "fully operative as a law" pending a process correction.
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