Senator Paul S. Sarbanes passed away peacefully on the evening of December 6, 2020, according to a statement released by the office of his son, U.S. Representative John Sarbanes (D-Md.).1

Sarbanes will be best remembered by most Americans for the landmark Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002,2 which sought to improve transparency and accountability for publicly traded companies in the wake of the accounting scandal that led to the largest bankruptcy to date of Enron Corporation in 2001.

He was then-ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and Sarbanes’ draft legislation gained bipartisan committee approval just days prior to the revelation of a $3.8 billion accounting fraud by WorldCom, which led to that company’s bankruptcy, eclipsing Enron’s. The draft was approved by the Senate in a 97-0 vote, and the final legislation was approved by overwhelming majorities in both houses: 423-3 in the House and 99-0 in the Senate.3

Among numerous improvements to financial reporting and accountability, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which brought independent oversight to auditors for the first time and established pay clawbacks4 and prison sentences5 for securities fraud by managers and investment advisors.

A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Sarbanes served as a clerk with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and was an accomplished lawyer prior to entering politics. He served his home state of Maryland in the state legislature between 1967 and 1971 before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1976, he was elected to represent Maryland in the Senate, a position he would hold for five terms until his retirement in 2007.

Sarbanes is survived by his three children: Michael, Janet, and John, who has served as the representative from Maryland’s 3rd District since 2006.

[1] Congressman John Sarbanes Announces the Passing of Senator Paul Sarbanes.

[2] 116 Stat. 745.

[3] Final Vote Results of Roll Call 348; Roll Call Vote 107th Congress – 2nd Session.

[4] MiMedx Plans to Claw Back Pay From Ex-CEO and Other Bosses.

[5] Raleigh Investment Advisor Sentenced to 40 Years for Orchestrating Ponzi Scheme, Obstructing the SEC, and Committing Aggravated Identity Theft.