Sam Williams, a candidate for Wichita mayor, is not entitled to use the title “CPA,” according to Kansas law.
“I am a Certified Public Accountant.”
“– Sam Williams, CPA”
“CPA Sam Williams”
“Being a CPA, Sam Williams …”
“Bert Denny, CPA — Treasurer”
These are some of the statements you’ll find on campaign and biographical material for Wichita mayoral candidate Sam Williams. But he isn’t licensed as a CPA, and Kansas law is clear on who can use the title “CPA.”
Kansas law states: “It is unlawful for any person, except the holder of a valid certificate or practice privilege pursuant to K.S.A. 1-322, and amendments thereto, to use or assume the title ‘certified public accountant’ or to use the abbreviation CPA …”
When asked if he was a licensed CPA in Kansas, Williams said that he was certified, but doesn’t have a license to practice. Asked about the statute that regulates unlawful use of the title “CPA,” Williams said “I never heard that before.”
It’s understandable that Williams does not have a CPA license in Kansas. He had such a license in Utah, expiring in 1990. In Wichita he worked as an executive in the advertising industry. He was not offering accounting services to the public.
As candidate for mayor of Wichita, the title “CPA” is front and center in Williams’ campaign. Advertising pieces make frequent use of the title, promoting business-related qualifications like knowing how to balance a budget and minimizing taxes.
We might dismiss this use of the CPA title as the type of resume-burnishing that is routine for candidates, and perhaps for anyone looking for a job. But Kansas has a law.
It’s not an obscure law, as this issue has been in the news. Last year United States Representative Lynn Jenkins of Topeka was granted special treatment by the Kansas Board of Accountancy, allowing her to continue to use the title “CPA” even though her license had expired. This was widely reported, and the Wichita Eagle editorialized on this issue, quoting a Nebraska accounting board official as saying “She’s misleading the public.”
Sam Williams knew of the Jenkins case. He mentioned her by name when asked about using the “CPA” title. He knew of the controversy.
Of note, Williams’ treasurer is a CPA.
The Kansas statute
A Kansas law, K.S.A. 1-316 (c), states “It is unlawful for any person, except the holder of a valid certificate or practice privilege pursuant to K.S.A. 1-322, and amendments thereto, to use or assume the title ‘certified public accountant’ or to use the abbreviation CPA or any other title, designation, words, letters, abbreviation, sign, card or device likely to be confused with ‘certified public accountant.’”
A violation of this law is a misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year imprisonment, or both.
Inquiry to the Kansas Board of Accountancy finds that Sam Williams has never had a CPA certificate in Kansas. His certificate from Utah expired in 1990, about the time Williams moved from Utah to Kansas.
While the statue seems clear, additional information from the Kansas Board of Accountancy is less than clear. In a document titled Who may use the CPA title in Kansas?, holds this advice; “For instance — if the CPA is a controller, CFO or an employee of a company that is not a CPA firm, whose responsibilities are to his/her employer only, then the use of CPA is allowable if used with the person’s name, the name of the company, and the person’s position with the company.”
This seems to allow someone like Williams — who was an executive with an advertising agency until retiring last year — some latitude in the use of the CPA title.
But the same document holds this: “What is also not allowed without a valid permit to practice, is advertising, phone book listing, letterhead, signature as a CPA on documents provided to the public (this includes friends and family), or third parties relying on the information provided.”