But aside from Sarbanes-Oxley, whose effective date was after most of these practices were alleged to occur, there is a raft of potential other problems: As this was written in July, the many lawsuits that inevitably will be filed against companies accused of backdating had just started.
The first have been against the poster company for these allegations, United Health Group in Minnesota.
(The administrative problem could be resolved if more companies would hire people with the right skills for stock plan administration, such as those with certification from the Certified Equity Professional Institute at Santa Clara University.) There are also companies, such as Microsoft, that issued options broadly but were concerned that because of the volatility of their stock, an employee who joined the company on one day might get an option grant at a price very different from one who joined a few days earlier or later.
It's demonstrably bunk, but then the people setting executive pay operate in a parallel universe.
District Attorney's Office has also issued several subpoenas in launching a criminal probe. The typical practice was to record a felicitously timed prior date as the grant date, such as the point when the stock had been at its lowest in recent months, instead of the date when the award was actually granted.
Nejat Seyhun of the University of Michigan for the newspaper showed that that options granting practices between 20 often failed to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley requirement that grants of awards to executives be reported within two days of board approval (T"he Dating Game: Do Managers Designate Option Grant Dates to Increase Their Compensation? Prior research at Erik Lie at the University of Iowa found a pattern of probable options backdating in a number of companies prior to 2002.
Despite all the editorials, all the accounting rule changes, and all the new laws, nothing much seems to change except the particular manner in which so many executives get overpaid.
Chances are this particular practice will now go away, but another one will surface all too soon.