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Ernst & Young Agrees To Pay $4 Million Over Lobbying Violations

Posted July 15, 2014 at 10:47am

A national accounting firm has agreed to pay $4 million to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that the firm violated rules relating to lobbying activities while claiming to be an independent auditor.

In the settlementWashington Council EY, a unit of Ernst & Young, agreed to pay $4,071,925.98 including disgorgement, interest, and civil penalty. The settlement details the House and Senate lobbying activities of the firm, including letters, meetings, and draft legislation.

The summary of the settlement stated,

“These proceedings arise out of certain legislative advisory services provided by Washington Council EY (“WCEY”), which has been part of EY since 2000.

“Prior to 2009, certain conduct related to WCEY’s provision of legislative advisory services violated the independence rules with respect to two of EY’s SEC-registrant audit clients. For example, WCEY sent letters urging passage of bills to congressional staff on behalf of one of its clients (hereinafter, “Client A”). These bills were important to Client A’s business interests. In another instance, WCEY asked congressional staff to insert into a bill a provision favorable to Client A. For another audit client (hereinafter, “Client B”), WCEY attempted to persuade congressional offices to withdraw their support for legislation detrimental to that client’s business interests. In addition, WCEY worked closely with congressional staff in drafting an alternative bill more favorable to Client B. WCEY also marked up a draft of the alternative bill, inserting specific language written by Client B, and sent the mark-up to congressional staff.

“Despite providing the services described herein, EY repeatedly represented that it was “independent” in audit reports issued on Client A’s and Client B’s financial statements, which were included or incorporated by reference in public filings with the Commission.

“By doing so, EY violated Rule 2-02(b)(1) of Regulation S-X and caused Client A and Client B to violate Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act and Rule 13a-1 thereunder. EY’s conduct also constituted improper professional conduct pursuant to Section 4C(a)(2) of the Exchange Act and Rule 102(e)(1)(ii) of the Commission’s Rules of Practice.”