Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB

Going Concern Interviews the CPA Who Took the PCAOB All the Way to the Supreme Court and Won (Sort of)

Unless you've spent the last five days preparing your liver for tomorrow's holiday you probably heard something about the Supreme Court's ruling on the ObamaCare. The decision will be discussed for years to come by legal scholars for its complexities, by partisans who can't win or lose gracefully, and by U.S. citizens who still can't believe […]

What’s the Next Move in This PCAOB Situation?

Jonathan Weil over at Bloomberg has a new column up today and he is less enthusiastic about the Supreme Court decision in FEF v. PCAOB than say, everyone else.

JW is mostly wondering why we should keep having an “independent” PCAOB inside the SEC since the board members will now be at the mercy of the towing the political line inside the Commission, “While the court

A Meaningless Win for Free Enterprise Fund and Beckstead and Watts

“Beckstead and Watts, LLP, and the Free Enterprise won, but there is no prize for them.”

~ Professor David Albrecht (guest posting at JDA), pointing out that despite a victory, the petitioners basically get jack squat.

What Are People Saying About the PCAOB Decision?

In case you’re just joining us on this MOANday, the SCOTUS ruled this morning that “the structure of the accounting board violated constitutional separation-of-powers principles because it was too difficult for the president to remove board members.”

So, pretty wonky legal stuff. The good news is that auditors will get to keep their jobs (mixed feelings, we’re sure) but what’s the reaction at large?


PCAOB – The PCAOB, for one, is just excited that the SCOTUS is still letting them play. Sayeth interm Chairman for life Dan Goelzer, “We are pleased that the decision allows the PCAOB to continue without interruption to carry out its important mission of overseeing public company audits in order to protect investors and promote the public interest.”

SEC – Likewise, SEC Chair Mary Schapiro is fine with the decsion too, “I am pleased that the Court has determined that the Board’s operations may continue and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, with the Board’s tenure restrictions excised, remains fully in effect. The PCAOB is a cornerstone of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and serves a critical role in promoting investor protection and audit quality. We look forward to continuing to work with the Board in connection with its mission to oversee auditors in order to protect the interests of investors and further the public interest in the preparation of informative, accurate and independent audit reports.”

Wall St. Journal – Suzanne Barlyn over at Financial Adviser writes that the small broker dealers won’t get the much coveted relief on their audit fees, “Historic financial regulatory reform legislation, which may be enacted as soon as July 4, would empower the PCAOB to regulate auditors of privately held broker dealers, who would then be subject to the organization’s inspections and possible enforcement actions. The potential change could mean auditing fees as high as $50,000 to $100,000 per year for certain broker dealers, instead of the $5,000 to $10,000 they typically shell out now.”

And Michael Corkery at Deal Journal writes that there is disappointment out there for the über-haters, “Dashed are the hopes of some corporations who believed the Court would use this case to question the broader issues of Sarbanes-Oxley, which critics say has buried publicly traded companies in onerous regulation and paperwork.”

Former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt – Former Chairman Pitt is less thrilled, telling Bloomberg that the decision was “an unfortunate and serious blow” and that even if Congress could squeeze there regulatory fix into the current reform bill, “in the two thousand pages of the legislation…there’s not a word dealing with the PCAOB That is something that will have to be fixed.”

DealBookPeter Henning of White Collar Watch is fairly unmoved, “[T]he decision in the Free Enterprise Fund case has no real impact on the operations of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board beyond removing a cloud as to its continued viability. The likelihood one of its members would be removed by the S.E.C. is virtually nonexistent, and its oversight and enforcement powers continue undisturbed. Similarly, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act remains fully in force beyond the narrow constraint on removal of a board member that is no longer operative.”

The EconomistSchumpeter’s Notebook is thankful that the entire law doesn’t have to be rewritten in the current legislative environment, “[I]t is probably a good verdict from business’s point of view. Companies have spent millions on SOX compliance, and had just about got used to the legislation. Moreover, there is no guarantee that a broad reconsideration of SOX, in the current business climate, would produce better legislation. Far from it.”

Ernst & Young – Directly from Jim Turley, “Independent regulation of the profession post-Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) has strengthened audit quality and confidence in financial reporting. We are pleased that the Court’s decision provides that the PCAOB’s independent oversight can continue without interruption. Although today’s ruling found a flaw in a provision within SOX regarding the removal of Board members, the Court held that Sarbanes Oxley remains the law.”

AICPABarry Melancon is as excited as everyone else, “The court’s ruling is a victory for investors and for the accounting profession. The decision effectively fixes the constitutionality of the PCAOB by making board members subject to `at will’ removal by the SEC and therefore the president. It sustains the continued function of both the PCAOB and Sarbanes-Oxley. As such, the court rejected a transparent attempt to undermine the post-Enron reforms that have served our financial markets well.”

Center for Audit Quality – The CAQ filed an amicus brief with court and Executive Director Cindy Fornelli was happy with the result, “The CAQ is pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision will allow the continued operation of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) without any changes or legislative action. This narrow decision clearly severs the PCAOB board member removal process from the rest of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and reaffirms all provisions of the law except for the power to remove the board members. The PCAOB was put in place to achieve the goals Congress embodied in SOX. As we observed in our friend-of-the-court brief, evidence demonstrates that audit quality and investor confidence have improved since the Board’s creation. The decision will prevent any disruption to the key activities of the PCAOB including setting auditing standards and the public company audit oversight process, critical factors in the continued strength and stability of our capital markets.”

Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley – The architects, if you will. “The PCAOB provides essential protections to the more than half of American households that invest savings in securities. It ensures the integrity of public company audits and, thereby, the accuracy of financial reporting. The PCAOB enjoys widespread support from investors as well as from the accounting profession. The decision from the Supreme Court adjusts the law in a way that allows the PCAOB to continue to ensure the integrity of public company audits. The Board’s essential protections of American investors will continue.”

SCOTUS Rules PCAOB Unconstitutional; Auditors’ Lives Will Continue to Suck

What does this mean (besides the fact that more than a few partners are eating their hats, shaving their heads, coming to work naked, etc.)?

The Board itself is not unconstitutional and thus will continue operating (sorry E&Y) so it’s not going anywhere. The problem is, Congress will have to get involved in order to and who knows what the brain trust will cook up.


Francine McKenna has some suggestions (including making the part 2 of the inspections public) and Matt Kelly at Compliance Week reported on May 31 that no one really knows what the hell is going to happen now:

I asked SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar how the SEC might want to resolve the issue. He said the commissioners know the problem is out there and they have “Plans A, B and C” to respond, but declined to say what any of those plans might be. I asked [Barney] Frank as well, and he essentially said his committee would work with the Senate Banking Committee to craft some legislative response, depending on exactly what the Supreme Court’s ruling says.

The Court ruled 5-4 (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito Dissent: Breyer, Stevens, Ginsburg, Sotomayor)

From Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion:

The President cannot “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” if he cannot oversee the faithfulness of the officers who execute them. Here the President cannot remove an officer who enjoys more than one level of good-cause protection, even if the President determines that the officer is neglecting his duties or discharging them improperly. That judgment is instead committed to another officer, who may or may not agree with the President’s determination, and whom the President cannot remove simply because that officer disagrees with him.

And Justice Breyer’s dissent (citations omitted):

The Court holds unconstitutional a statute providing that the Securities and Exchange Commission can remove members of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board from office only for cause. It argues that granting the “inferior officer[s]” on the Accounting Board “more than one level of good-cause protection . . . contravenes the President’s ‘constitutional obligation to ensure the faithful execution of the laws.’” I agree that the Accounting Board members are inferior officers. But in my view the statute does not significantly interfere with the President’s “executive Power.” It violates no separation-of-powers principle. And the Court’s contrary holding threatens to disrupt severely the fair and efficient administration of the laws.

So day-to-day auditors lives won’t change but some new wrinkles could be thrown in now that the law will have to be tweaked. So who knows what will happen! In the meantime, here’s your light reading for the day:

FreeEnterpriseFundvPCAOB

Accounting News Roundup: Tipsters Expose Fraud More Often Than Most Controls; What if the PCAOB Is Unconstitutional?; BDO Could Question Forensic Accountant’s Credibility | 06.01.10

Something Wicked This Way Comes [CFO]
A recent Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) study discovered that “[o]f the top eight controls ranked by effectiveness, only one — surprise audits, which cut fraud losses by 51% — is part of the traditional accounting-based control structure. Financial-statement review, internal audits, and Sarbanes-Oxley-mandated certifications by CEOs and CFOs all ranked below the nonaccounting controls in terms of effectiveness in preventing fraud.”

Controls have no match for good old human conscience, “tips expose fraud three times as often as do management reviews, internal audits, or account reconciliations.”


The problem however, is that employees may not be getting the training about how to report fraud if they know it’s happening, “an unsupportive corporate culture and poor employee training leave potential whistle-blowers unsure of whom to talk to.” Plus the baddies are doing their best to dissuade them, as Sam Antar told CFO, “[They] don’t go down without a fight, they don’t fight fairly, and they are going to intimidate whistle-blowers — that’s the nature of their game.”

Accounting for Crisis [Portfolio.com]
Gary Weiss writes over at Portfolio about the impending decision in Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB and he’s not impressed with the FEF’s argument, “claiming that the board would give our Founding Fathers heart attacks because its members are appointed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and not the president and can’t be removed except for cause.”

That despite the PCAOB’s lack of fireworks in its daily activities, “The PCAOB has not exactly rocked our world—and obviously its existence did nothing to keep Lehman from its Repo 105 book-cooking scheme. But getting rid of it, particularly on specious Constitutional grounds, would be a blow to the cause of more accurate financial statements.”

The odds say that the SCOTUS will affirm the lower court’s decision but just in case, Gary agrees with Interim PCAOB Chairman Dan Goelzer that Congress needs to act fast if the Court surprises us and reverses the decision.

Clifton Gunderson buys Stockton Bates [Philadelphia Business Journal]
Philadelphia-based Stockton Bates will join Clifton Gunderson’s 1,900 employees and 300 partners effective today. Stockton has 32 employees between three offices in Philadelphia, Lancaster, PA and Haddonfield, NJ.

BDO Seidman fights claims brought by fraudster Lew Freeman [South Florida Business Journal]
Convicted forensic accountant Lewis Freeman testified in the case of ES Bankest and BDO. So it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Freeman’s conviction could call his credibility as a witness into question as well as the Bankest bankruptcy proceedings, where Freeman acted as the court-appointed receiver.

Is Beckstead & Watts a Real Firm?

beckstead&watts.jpgWe kid, we kid. We’re sure it’s a real firm but they don’t seem to have time for professional services these days.
B&W is the audit firm plaintiff in Free Enterprise Fund and Beckstead and Watts, LLP v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board that was heard before the SCOTUS earlier this month.
We were pointed to the B&W website which you might notice, is entirely devoted to its case against the PCAOB. As far as we can tell, there isn’t any indication that the firm provides, you know, professional services.
The page does link to the 2006 Accounting Today article that mentions Brad Beckstead as one of the “100 Most Influential People” because he serves as “the symbol of the very opposition to reform the law” but there’s no mention of his superstar auditing abilities.
Even stranger is the firm’s latest PCAOB report which could indicate that the firm is indeed open for business except the report states that the firm doesn’t have any professional staff or issuer audit clients.
So can we assume that the firm’s purpose of being is to serve as the poor audit firm that is taking on the PCAOB? We admire the gusto but what happens when the case is over? Seems like a lot of trouble just for spite.
2006 Top 100 Most Influential People.pdf
Beckstead & Watts PCAOB Report 6.29.09.pdf

The PCAOB’s Date at the Supreme Court Has Finally Arrived

Thumbnail image for pcaob.jpgFor those of you that don’t religiously follow the happenings over at the SCOTUS, we’ll remind you that oral arguments are being heard today in Free Enterprise Fund and Beckstead and Watts, LLP v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.
The issue before the court, according to SCOTUS Wiki:

Whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is ��������������������ration-of-powers principles – as the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is in turn overseen by the President – or contrary to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, as the PCAOB members are appointed by the SEC.


An op-ed in today’s Wall St. Journal ignores the “legal hairsplitting” of the case and instead focuses primarily on the cost that companies have taken on implementing Section 404:

In 2003 the SEC estimated that the average company could do much of its internal controls work for $91,000 per year. In 2007, the commission acknowledged costs had gotten out of hand, particularly for smaller companies, and told the PCAOB to make the internal controls audits more cost-effective.
In 2008, the SEC’s Office of Economic Analysis launched a survey of public companies to judge the results, and it recently posted the findings on the SEC Web site, after collecting data from thousands of corporations.
Section 404 is still consuming more than $2.3 million each year in direct compliance costs at the average company. The SEC’s survey shows the long-term burden on small companies is more than seven times that imposed on large firms relative to their assets. Are the internal controls audits helpful? Among companies of all sizes, only 19% say that the benefits of Section 404 outweigh the costs. More respondents say that it has reduced the efficiency of their operations than say it has improved them. More say that Section 404 has negatively affected the timeliness of their financial reporting than say it has enhanced it.

Not surprisingly, The Journal (specifically James Freeman) is pulling for the Plaintiffs in this case without presenting any of the positive contributions of SOx. Ultimately, the nine justices will determine the fate of the PCAOB, which if found unconstitutional, could have wide repercussions on all the auditors out there. We just spent the better part of a decade getting this SOx stuff down, and now it’s possible that it could’ve been a giant waste of time. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?
For those of you interested in this case further, you can hear the oral presentations via podcast, over at SCOTUS Blog.
We invite our legal friends with perspective on this case to share their insights and predictions on this case. Hell, even if you’re not a legal scholar, share your thoughts. And just for fun, take a stab on what you think the outcome of the case will be by voting in the poll below.


The Supreme Case Against Sarbanes-Oxley [WSJ]