ABSTRACT: After passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), several U.S. states considered mirror legislation to restrict the activities of accounting firms at the state level. In response, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) undertook a counteroffensive program to this threatened coercive government intervention. The strategic response by the AICPA is a theoretically significant event that is relevant to our understanding of professions, professional associations, and professional ideology. Further, the event was an opportunity for the AICPA to reveal a changed perspective in response to the systemic disturbance of SOX. Accordingly, in this paper we examine rhetorical expressions AICPA used to legitimate their counterarguments and analyze the nature of the revealed professional ideology. We found no evidence that the AICPA reverted to a protective, guardian ideology as a strategic response. In contrast, the AICPA appealed generally to neo‐liberal political ideology and commercial values, and in particular linked the concept of the public interest with commercial interests of CPA firms and their members. We interpret our findings in the context of institutional pressures for ingratiation, propaganda value of rhetoric, and a widely observed evolution in the discourse of professions and professionalism.

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