CPA PAC contributions too skewedYour Oct. 16-Nov. 5, 2006, issue had a front-page article about the contributions that CPA political action committees are making to various political candidates ("CPA PACs stuff candidate coffers"). As the article's subheading accurately stated, those donations are clearly skewed to the right. When one reads the article, it becomes apparent that the funds are not merely moving to the right, but rather to the far and oppressive right.

This article highlighted one of the problems with our profession, and presents a very disturbing image of the irresponsibility of those who hold the purse strings of CPA PACs in their hands. It is also a clear statement as to why CPAs with any sense of fiscal responsibility and true moral values should not be contributing to these PACs, and most distressing that CPAs who might contribute to a CPA PAC, expecting contributions consistent with CPA ethics and standards, are being lied to.

Put aside the fact that, of the 10 recipients receiving the most from CPA PACs, nine were Republicans and one a Democrat - that by itself, while of concern, does not tell us all that much. However, when we look at the specifics, it is frightening. When you consider that the bedrock of accounting is fiscal conservatism, you would think that PAC contributions would be a little more sensitive to supporting those who act in a fiscally responsible manner. Instead, contributions have been going to those most responsible for the biggest deficits this country has ever seen, and the most irresponsible combination of spending and tax cuts.

At the same time, these contributions are going to those who, in the aggregate, would be supportive of some of the most repressive measures in this country's history, and who have no problem supporting the most obscene intrusions into our private lives and the forcing of Christian right-wing dogma on a country that is supposed to have respect for the separation of church and state mandated by our Constitution.

Of the 10 largest recipients, the reactionary bent of the group is astounding and reprehensible. Referring to ratings provided by the American Conservative Union (the larger the number up to 100 percent, the higher the approval as to being conservative), the group of 10 listed in your article have no fewer than five receiving scores of 96 to 100 percent from the ACU; three others with percentages in the 80s, and one in the 70s; and then just one below the mid-point - that being, surprise of surprises, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was rated a distinguished 12 percent by the ACU.

Putting aside the obvious damnation that these scores provide, you would expect that in reference to a score by any organization, there should be some balance - perhaps the recipients spread over the spectrum of between zero and 100, with half above the 50 percent mark and half below the 50 percent mark. That is not the case here - the average score is 83, and if you remove the Democrat, the one outlier, the average score is 91.

This is not only a matter of fiscal irresponsibility, but a disgraceful indictment of the moral bankruptcy of those in charge of those PAC funds.

Besides all of that, a criticism which for the most part is not intended as a biased political statement, these contributions also represent monies going to some of the most vile elements in our government: People who have helped to bring us the war in Iraq (which from a human point of view is a horror, and from a fiscal point of view - pay attention, accountants - has probably cost this country somewhere close to $1 trillion); a degradation of our civil liberties beyond imagination; the internment of thousands of people in total disregard for any rights that we think people have ... you get the picture.

These PACs are an unfortunate example of some of the worst in our profession. Perhaps Sarbanes-Oxley was looking in the wrong area in its efforts to improve our profession.

Kalman A. Barson, CPA

The Barson Group

Somerville, N.J.

The sky is not falling!

I believe the commentary "Are we failing the exam?" (Accounting Today, Sept. 4-17, 2006, page 6) by J. Andrew Weidman misses the point and uses some inappropriate facts. As we all know, the same statistics can be interpreted in completely different ways. The premise that the profession has an issue that must be addressed is certainly on point. However, let us focus on the relevant facts.

The article leads one to conclude that the number of exam candidates is down. Well, that depends on how you define "down." If you want to compare the number of candidates who took the first series of electronic exams to the number of candidates who took the last series of paper exams, you would be accurate. A closer look at the facts shows that more than 100,000 candidates sat for the exam in the second year of the computerized testing, compared to the approximately 81,000 candidates who sat for the exam in the last year of the paper-based exams.

Staff accountants pressed to pass the exam because they wanted to take and pass the exam in a familiar setting. Shortly after the electronic exam was rolled out, exam instances decreased, as some candidates sat on the sidelines to watch the fallout and see what happened. They wanted to see if the sky was falling.

Alas, the sky did not fall. The computer-based exams are closer to what they experienced at their colleges than the paper-based exams.

Another fact to consider is the growing number of accounting graduates who choose to enter the private sector, rather than start their careers in public accounting. In Florida, approximately 45 percent of accounting graduates do not enter public accounting immediately upon graduation.

As Mr. Weidman points out, it is incumbent on CPAs in the private sector to support the CPA brand and to encourage entry-level staff to take the exam. The CPA brand doesn't simply reflect an individual's ability to attest to the fair presentation of financial statements. Rather, it indicates a commitment to professionalism. Those accountants and finance professionals in government and the private sector who choose to become CPAs reveal to the world that they are competent and willing to work hard to achieve their goals.

Perhaps a way to increase the number of candidates sitting for the exam is to allow degreed candidates working on their fifth year to sit for the exam as provisional candidates. The greater the number of candidates who simultaneously complete their education and their certification testing requirements, the better the profession will be and the more likely we are to encourage students pursuing public accounting, as well as students who go directly to industry and governments.

For those of us who took the exams based more on APBs than SFASes, the new paradigm may be frightening. For the Millennium Generation, the computerized exam is clearly in their comfort zone. How do I know this? My son recently graduated with an MSA from Notre Dame in the spring of 2006. Did he fear the exam and stay away from the exam? Not by any stretch of imagination. He sat for and passed all four parts before he started with KPMG this summer.

When I helped my son relocate to Charlotte, N.C., to begin his career, he and his roommate (an Ernst & Young new hire) went to lunch with a couple of friends - a new hire at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a new hire at Deloitte & Touche. The entire Big Four was represented at this unscientific and less-than-random sample lunch. This data point reveals that, collectively, this foursome of 2006 graduates has sat for and passed 14 parts of the exam.

The new generation of accountants is not shying away from the computerized exam. My daughter, Beta Alpha Psi president at the Pennsylvania State University, plans to use her older brother as a role model and sit for all four parts immediately after graduation next summer. The Millennium Generation is embracing the computer exam, and while the 2004 numbers bear out Mr. Weidman's premise, the current information from 2005 and 2006 shows that the exam counts are up, they are meeting and exceeding the estimates of the AICPA, and they demonstrate that the state of exams is good.

The article points out that firms need to make the exam process a priority. Many firms, in fact, are making the exam a priority. My firm encourages associates to sit for the exam. We provide computer-based review courses to associates. We would always support associates in studying for the exam during down-time. We encourage our staff to schedule and follow through on sitting for the exam during their scheduled appointment.

The article certainly makes a valid point that a disconnect exists between partner opinions on the exam and the staff's perception of those partners' opinion. My hypothesis is that the front-line supervisors and managers may be creating that disconnect, and we as a profession do in fact need to articulate our support for the CPA Exam and the CPA brand.

An important factor that is noticeably missing from his analysis is the influence of academia on the exam habits of CPA candidates. Being part of a family of CPAs, I have firsthand knowledge of accounting academia. Dr. Dennis, my wife, is on the accounting faculty at our local university. I also serve on the board of governors of the Florida Institute of CPAs with Dr. Hubert Gill from another major university in Florida.

Many professors are not aggressively pushing the CPA brand and the exam in the classroom. A student's first exposure to the profession comes from their university, where they study for four to five years. Opinions are formed there that drive the student's propensity to take the exam.

The profession needs to engage academia in the discussion about the importance of the CPA brand and the importance of the CPA Exam. I had the opportunity to sit at the table with Dr. Charley Johnson in Washington, D.C., as he received his Educator of the Year Award from the AICPA. We need more Charley Johnsons.

I am happy to report that we are not failing the exam. The sky is not falling. The state of the CPA Exam is good. Our profession is in the hands of the Millennium Generation, and those look to be, from my perspective, very good hands.

David Dennis

President-elect, FICPA

Orlando, Fla.

Letters may be sent to: Editor, Accounting Today, 1 State Street Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10004, or by e-mail to Accounting Today reserves the right to edit all submissions.

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