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Auditor Fees and Fraud Firms


  • Accepted by Ferdinand Gul. We gratefully acknowledge the valuable comments we have received from the editor and the anonymous reviewers of Contemporary Accounting Research. For their helpful suggestions, we also thank Charles Barragato, John Corless, Ross Fuerman, Julia Higgs, Rani Hoitash, Udi Hoitash, Alison Kelly, Al Nagy, Tracey Riley, Alex Yen, and anonymous reviewers and the participants of the 2007 AAA annual and Northeast meetings, where the paper was presented.


The issue of whether auditor fees affect auditor independence has been extensively debated by regulators, investors, investment professionals, auditors, and researchers. The revised Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requirements that resulted from the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002) limit nonaudit services (NAS) and mandate NAS fee disclosure. The SEC's requirements are based on the argument that auditor independence could be impaired—and hence audit quality may be reduced—when auditors become economically dependent on their clients or audit their own work. Economic bonding leads to reduced independence, which can lead to reduced audit quality. We study a sample of firms sanctioned by the SEC for fraudulent financial reporting in Accounting and Auditing Enforcement Releases (SEC-sanctioned fraud firms) and examine whether there is a relationship between auditor fee variables and the likelihood of being sanctioned by the SEC for fraud. We use SEC sanction as a measure of audit quality that has not previously been used in the auditor fee literature and is more precise than some of the other proxies used for flawed financial/auditor reporting. We find, in univariate tests, that fraud firms paid significantly higher (total, audit, and NAS) fees. However, in multivariate tests, when controlling for other fraud determinants and endogeneity among the fraud, NAS, and audit fee variables, we find that while NAS fees and total fees are positively and significantly related to the likelihood of being sanctioned by the SEC for fraud, audit fees are not. These findings suggest that higher NAS fees may cause economic bonding, thereby leading to reduced audit quality. Our findings of significantly higher NAS fees and total fees in fraud firms hold after controlling for latent size effects and other rigorous testing. These results contribute to the literature that examines the SEC's concerns regarding NAS and can be used by policy makers for additional consideration.