Jonathan Weil has a tough Bloomberg View column about accounting regulators covering up wrongdoing by companies and their auditors.
Back in 2006, KPMG let Motorola book a sale in the third quarter. That helped Motorola because without it, the company would have missed earnings estimates and sent its shares tumbling. But the sale happened on the first day of the fourth quarter, and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which regulates auditors, said KPMG had no justification for fudging the numbers. Apparently, neither KPMG nor Motorola paid
no a penalty and Motorola didn’t even have to restate its earnings. Weil reports there’s no evidence the SEC bothered to investigate, either. And the PCAOB covered the chicanery up by not telling the public.
Worse, not telling the public about wrongdoers is standard operating procedure for the regulator:
All of this is business as usual for America’s numbers cops. Since the board’s creation by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, its inspectors have found audit failures by large accounting firms at hundreds of U.S.-listed companies. Yet its policy is to keep the identities of those clients secret.
The only reason Weil found out who the earnings-smoothing, book-cooking client was is that he’s attuned to this issue and found out about it from a class-action shareholder lawsuit:
This is the third column I’ve written revealing the name of a client whose accounting practices were a subject of a major auditing firm’s inspection report. Motorola is the biggest yet. I hope a whistleblower comes forward someday to leak many more. This is information investors need to know.
That’s just a quibble, of course. This is good work. Weil has ferreted out information that the accounting industry and its regulators don’t want us to know while at the same time showing why this information shouldn’t be secret.
In this case, investors were lied to by executives of the company they own, as well as the auditors they hired to keep them honest. Not making these violations public keeps the pressure off the SEC to probe what’s going on in these companies. If you’ll fudge your books like that, what else will you do?
This is basic public’s-right-to-know stuff. When the government finds wrongdoing in the public markets, we ought to know about it.