In Support of Public or Private Interests? An Examination of Sanctions Imposed Under the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct

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The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) monitors the misconduct of its members using the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct (CPC). To accomplish this task, the AICPA relies on various stakeholders to report known violations of its CPC. We examine the full population of sanctions imposed by the AICPA on its members under its CPC from 2008–2013 to identify recent trends in the misconduct of accounting professionals. While we find that multiple stakeholders identify and report violations, we also find that the most common types of violations remain consistent with those reported in the 1990s. Further, we develop a taxonomy based on prior accounting literature to determine whether the AICPA CPC is being enforced to defend the public interest and/or the private interests of the accounting profession. In contrast to prior studies, our results suggest that as the accounting profession emerges from a recession and period of intense public scrutiny, the AICPA CPC is largely being enforced to defend the public interest. This public interest focus was most pronounced during the recessionary years of 2008–2010, as evident from misconduct reported by parties such as the Internal Revenue Service, Securities and Exchange Commission, Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and state boards of accountancy. Although key stakeholders have recently focused on reporting misconduct that threatens the public interest, we believe there are still areas in need of improvement, especially around the level of detail provided in the AICPA’s sanction records. We propose some possible solutions to improve public transparency.

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Journal of Business Ethics

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