Accounting Today's Washington correspondent Ken Rankin peered into the American Institute of CPAs' political action committee coffers this week - and it was not a pretty sight.

The institute’s PAC has raised only $677,562 so far this year to support political candidates in this fall’s national elections. That’s less than half of the $1.3 million the organization drew in for the elections in 2000.

So, what’s going on here? Is the AICPA losing its clout not only with politicians (witness the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act), but with its own members, too? It would appear that may be the case.

Since AICPA members generally make PAC donations along with their annual dues payments, they may be stopping to pause before picking up their checkbooks, wondering if their hard-earned dollars are going to a worthy cause after all.

Once the proud owner of one of the mightiest PACs in the Beltway, the AICPA saw its influence on Capitol Hill disintegrate along with the reputation of Andersen and the rest of the profession in the wake of a series of accounting scandals beginning with Enron.

If the AICPA’s political influence could not be brought to bear to stall, sway or stamp out a bill like Sarbanes-Oxley which stripped the profession of basic duties such as self-regulation and standards-setting, why throw good money after bad, some might have reasoned.

Of course, as the AICPA’s manager of Congressional Affairs told Rankin, the money could soon be pouring in over the next month, but making up such a shortfall won’t be easy.

Interestingly, cash in the PACs for the remaining Big Four firms are strong, steady and full to bursting. Why? I’d have to guess that the firms, which are organized as partnerships, probably stipulate that a certain amount must be donated each year to the PAC. And each firm has a culture, identity, reputation and influence everyone in the firm has a stake in upholding.

The AICPA, meanwhile, has a shaky reputation these days with the public at large and with its own membership following the failure of the global credential, the controversy over president Barry Melancon’s stake in CPA2Biz, and finally passage of a bill that permanently alters the workings of a once unassailable profession. While only a vocal few are critical of the institute’s leadership, in this instance others may be airing their concerns in a time-honored way: Money talks.

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