EXECUTIVE SUMMARY — Understanding the political process that leads to accounting standards may provide insights into both their procedural legitimacy and how they will eventually be used. In a study of the role of major auditors in the accounting standard-setting process, the authors provide a systematic characterization of auditors' changing incentives. They also examine how those incentives influence auditor lobbying across nearly every financial reporting standard issued from 1973 through 2006. Overall, results suggest that the auditors' own incentives play a prominent role in their lobbying activities for the rules of U.S. GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).
We examine how Big N auditors' changing incentives impact their comment-letter lobbying on U.S. GAAP over the first thirty-four years of the FASB (1973-2006). We examine the influence of auditors' lobbying incentives arising from three basic factors: managing expected litigation and regulatory costs; catering to clients' preferences for flexibility in GAAP; and being conceptually aligned with the FASB, particularly on the use of fair values in accounting. We find evidence that auditor lobbying is driven by prevailing standards of litigation and regulatory scrutiny and by support for fair-value accounting. But we find no evidence that catering to clients' preferences for flexibility in GAAP drives auditor lobbying. Broadly, our paper offers the first large-sample descriptive analysis of the role of Big N auditors in the accounting standard-setting process.