“Voters out there are frustrated,” said a cable news analyst I flipped on the other day. It could have been almost any news show. Any political angle. Any evening.
The analyst cited “lack of disclosure” as the root cause of this problem. Not so, insisted someone in a suit on set. It’s about conflicts of interest, he said. An absence of objectivity.
If I had been alone I would have turned this off. But I was not in charge. My CPA wife held up her hand. Just as I feared, she was waving a crumpled printout that lives under our coffee table these days.
It isn’t a copy of the Constitution, though it looks a bit like that from a distance. It is some synopsis she’s unearthed of the American Institute of CPAs’ Code of Professional Conduct.
I knew what was coming.
Another mini-lecture on the ironclad ethical standards that even the humblest accountant is expected to uphold. Another capsule rant on the disclosure and compliance expectations of CPAs at the Big Four and other accounting firms. Kathy, who now runs a small practice with her partner, worked for many years as a tax manager at KPMG LLP.
While some may be yawning, or mildly troubled, by a president who doesn’t disclose his tax returns or first family members who leave meetings out of their required security-clearance disclosure forms, Kathy and her fellow objectivity-obsessed CPAs are fuming.
Kathy’s bursts of occupational pride started me thinking. Shouldn’t our government officials be held to, at the very least, the same behavioral benchmarks as members of my wife’s workaday, white-collar profession?
And what about our elections themselves — fraught these days with accusations of gerrymandered districts, limited access to polls, and voter fraud. Could CPAs, with their professional pledges of objectivity and nonpartisanship, be of any help here?
After analyzing the matter during a commercial, I am confident they could. Here are some of my proposals:
1. Appoint top firms to monitor the election process. If the Oscar voting is important enough to be chaperoned by the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, isn’t it time the federal government took note and held our national elections to the same unimpeachable standard? Okay, so there was some minor confusion at the Oscars this year. But compared with electoral flubs like hanging and dimpled chads, it’s hardly worth mentioning.
2. Establish a CPA Voting Oversight Commission. This newly appointed authority will report to no one in particular and ensure that accountants are involved at every level of voting, and are present at polling stations from coast to coast. Big Four auditors with clipboards, wearing white shirts and quality worsted-wool suits, will discourage the merest hint of fraud.
3. Assign “ethics buddies” to all government officials. Since CPAs are trained to understand the need for integrity in the workplace — while elected officials seem perpetually confused by the concept — the solution is obvious. Team them up, one-on-one, and stand back as the famously scrupulous habits of public accountants begin to rub off through impromptu counseling sessions and lecture-saturated coffee breaks.
4. Replace secretaries of state with accountants. As of this writing, more than half of the nation’s secretaries of state are elected officials complete with party affiliations and the usual political biases. But as we CPA spouses know well, accountants are far too busy to become interested in politics, especially during tax season.
So the instant we remove each of the offending secretaries and appoint opinion-challenged accountants in their place, problems like whimsical polling hours and unpredictable ID checks disappear in a flash.
5. Eradicate gerrymandering by “certifying” districts. Redistricting is at the root of debates over our elections. But this needn’t be so. CPAs understand certification like no one else — so let’s set teams of them loose to audit each and every congressional district. Once the lines are appropriately apolitical, a special Congressional District Certification seal will be issued, preserving the approved boundaries for centuries to come.
I’m looking forward to the day in the very near future when these long-overdue electoral repairs are enacted and the nation’s public accountants become — at long last — true public servants. Their wise and consistent influence will usher in a new golden age of objectivity in American politics.
Not to mention the fact that my wife will be a whole lot calmer in the evenings while we’re watching TV.