Last week the bane of Big 4 auditors existence, the PCAOB, broke their cherry on releasing Part II of an inspection report for a Big 4 firm. The honor went to Deloitte, who sufficiently blew off the Board’s recommendations for 12 months, which led to the release of Part II.
Bloomberg‘s Jonathan Weil, who usually sits back with popcorn while these things go down before chiming in, got to it today but with a twist that you probably weren’t expecting:
There was another important story, however, that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board kept hidden: Three of its five board members had recused themselves from participating in meetings or discussions this year concerning Deloitte, because of past or current ties to the firm, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
The board members — Lewis Ferguson, Jay Hanson and the board’s chairman, James Doty — were appointed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in January. Doty had been a partner at the law firm Baker Botts LLP, where Deloitte is a client. Ferguson was a partner at the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, which also represents Deloitte. Hanson, a former partner at the accounting firm McGladrey & Pullen LLP, has a daughter who works for Deloitte in its Phoenix office.
The board’s policy is to not disclose recusals, in spite of its mission to “further the public interest,” as if these are none of the public’s business. “Recusals are confidential,” Colleen Brennan, a board spokeswoman, said. Doty, Ferguson and Hanson declined to comment. A Deloitte spokesman, Jonathan Gandal, said: “The PCAOB itself does not comment on recusals, and as such it would be inappropriate for us to do so.”
It’s a pretty nice scoop by Jon and we’re all used to the silence from the PCAOB and Deloitte when someone gets the best of them but honestly, is anyone surprised? Does anyone care? The answer to the first question is “No.” The answer is the second question is “Maybe.”
With the exception of Mr. Hanson (family connection, we’ll give you that one), the recusals seem a little silly since neither Ferguson or Doty actually worked directly for Deloitte. Okay, so Baker Botts and Gibson Dunn have Deloitte has a client. Which Big Law firm doesn’t? It’d be pretty tough to find any DC lawyer who didn’t do some time at a firm that represented Deloitte. That goes for any Big 4 firm. They’ve all got deep pockets with lots of legal problems, of course they’re going to hire the best lawyers money can buy. Does that make guys like Ferguson and Doty unfit to make decisions with regard to that firm?
Well, for one year it does. Under the Board’s ethics code, Doty and Ferguson will be able to vote on matters involving Deloitte in January. Still, Weil doesn’t like the smell of it. And it doesn’t stop with the PCAOB:
[T]alk about being wired: The SEC’s chief accountant, James Kroeker, is a Deloitte alumnus. At the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which writes U.S. accounting rules, the wife of one board member, Russell Golden, is a Deloitte partner.
Look, we like Jon (even if he is a Colorado grad). But how do you find accounting policy makers who aren’t from the biggest, best connected firms that have the most resources? Should the Commission start appointing academics to develop policy? Eeek. Or maybe we’ll let the public make recommendations, “Yeah, my cousin’s a CPA out of Tulsa. Really knows his stuff. He’d be good.” Please.
Dan Goelzer’s seat is coming up and he’ll be replaced by a CPA. Weil hopes that the SEC will find “a qualified person without Big 4 allegiances” but with the revolving door spinning, he’d better hope for a wild card.
Goldman Sachs Envy Gains New Meaning at Big Four [Jonathan Weil/Bloomberg]