Jenkins: A CPA without a permit ; Jenkins: Has OK to use title [Topeka Capital Journal (KS)]
(Topeka Capital Journal (KS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins' state permit to work as a certified public accountant expired nearly two years ago, but the Kansas Republican continues tagging congressional and campaign materials with a CPA label after securing permission from Kansas regulators.
The previously undisclosed arrangement was approved by the Kansas Board of Accountancy in 2011 before Jenkins' permit to practice as a CPA expired in 2012.
Generally, state regulators strive to protect consumers by discouraging individuals without standing as a CPA from attaching this professional seal of approval to marketing information.
The executive director of the state Board of Accountancy declined requests for an interview to outline Kansas law and policy, but directors of Oklahoma and Nebraska agencies with regulatory oversight of CPAs said they would be inclined to block individuals not holding active licenses from displaying the distinguished endorsement without a qualifying notice, such as "retired" or "inactive."
In Jenkins' case, the Kansas board rejected her plea to apply hours she spent in U.S. House committee hearings on tax issues toward completion of 40 hours of annual continuing education required for renewal of a state permit. The state board ruled acceptance of the proposal would be without precedent.
The board did authorize her use of the CPA designation in conjunction with her name, without a permit, as long as she complied with a prohibition on performing services for the public as a certified public accountant. Her congressional office said she doesn't engage in CPA duties.
Virginia Powell, chairwoman of the accountancy board in 2011, said in a letter to Jenkins the board had a record of granting extensions of time to complete education credits because of health or foreign residency obstacles, but the agency wasn't comfortable affirming "a waiver based on your situation."
"The board did determine, however," Powell continued, "that in your case, as being a congresswoman, and using 'CPA' after your name, it is allowed under the accountancy laws without a permit to practice, in that you would be using CPA as a title only."
Jenkins, who is running for re-election in the 2nd District that includes Topeka, found it challenging to complete required accounting and ethics classes because of the workload in Congress.
She has a history of prominently placing a CPA designation on political materials. It has been affixed to documents, postcards, emails, websites, advertisements, posters, yard signs or other items during the past decade as she served as a U.S. representative and while employed as state treasurer of Kansas.
Tom Brandt, spokesman for Jenkins, said guidelines of the U.S. House regarding taxpayer-funded mailings also enabled official stationary to include information about a member's professional license. Materials sent to constituents by Jenkins have contained references to the CPA title.
He said Jenkins' professional experience as an accountant applied directly to her responsibilities in Washington, D.C.
"Congresswoman Jenkins' extensive background as a tax practitioner is particularly relevant and extremely beneficial to Kansans as she serves on the chief tax-writing committee in the U.S. House," Brandt said.
In terms of professional standing of CPAs, Kansas is considered a two-tiered state by regulators.
Documents from the state's accounting board indicate individuals who passed the CPA exam and an ethics course could be issued a Kansas certificate. This first-tier certification enables a person to use the designation of CPA with their name, but "not hold out or sign reports for the public as a CPA."
"If a person wants to reflect this information on a resume," the board's website says, "then we strongly suggest that the CPA designation is explained by saying, 'not licensed to practice in Kansas.' "
Kansas stipulates persons may qualify for a CPA permit -- the second tier -- after meeting an experience mandate of one year in the profession. A valid permit enables Kansans to legally perform services for the public as a CPA.
The state stipulates CPAs complete 80 hours of continuing education credit over a two-year period to maintain eligibility for a permit. Certain accredited self-study programs are acceptable.
Jenkins' certificate was issued in December 1992. The state accountancy board acted on her request in February 2011. Jenkins' permit expired in June 2012.
Susan Somers, executive director of the Kansas Board of Accountancy, declined multiple requests for an interview to discuss nuances of CPA title usage. She did send an email quoting sections of Kansas statute.
In the email, Somers said an individual holding a valid CPA certificate -- such as Jenkins -- may use the title in connection with his or her name. But that person couldn't lawfully engage in the practice of certified public accountancy in Kansas without a certificate and permit, she said.
Mary Rapp MacBain, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Society of CPAs, said in an interview the association served as a watchdog, advocate and champion of CPAs in Kansas. Approximately 4,000 people have active CPA permits in the state, she said.
"We want to protect the brand," MacBain said. "It's a brand that is important."
She said a person holding out to the public as a CPA must have a permit to practice in the profession.
"If you say: 'Here I am. I'm a CPA.' You have to have a permit," she said.
Subsequently, MacBain requested her comments not be published.
Jenkins' office followed with a written statement from MacBain praising the congresswoman's 20-year membership in the society, her leadership in Washington and persistent display of CPA after her name.
"As a member of the KSCPA," MacBain's statement said, "Congresswoman Jenkins is required to and has held herself to the high ethical standards required of individuals in our profession."
Randy Ross, executive director of the Oklahoma Accountancy Board, said CPAs who chose not to complete continuing education requirements for a license couldn't hold themselves out as certified public accountants engaged in the field. This situation is commonly encountered by retired CPAs, he said, who handle the status change on business cards or other documents by declaring "CPA, retired."
He said the state would act against individuals who no longer held a CPA license and continued to tout themselves as an active, credentialed professional serving the public. The state's response to an offender would include a cease-and-desist letter seeking removal of CPA signage, he said. Lack of compliance could lead to action in district court.
"He's not a CPA once his license expired or was revoked," Ross said. "He is no longer a CPA."
Dan Sweetwood, executive director of the Nebraska Board of Public Accountancy, said there would be concern in his state about persons with lapsed CPA licenses who didn't make clear to the public they were on "inactive" status.
Sweetwood said management of CPA regulatory decisions should never be influenced by knowledge the subject held high political office. In terms of Jenkins, he said, her public display of a CPA label should raise questions about the message being delivered to consumers.
"She's misleading the public," he said. "It's politically sensitive, but so what?"
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