Bean Counters Battle Back

CAROUSEL - President Barack Obama announces federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, right, as his nominee for the Supreme Court, Tuesday, May 26, 2009, in an East Room ceremony at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais )
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
The partners and staff at Andersen's U.S. operation are putting on a publicity campaign as they struggle to prevent the business from disintegrating.

Rallies scheduled Thursday for Washington and Philadelphia, coupled with a grass-roots lobbying campaign and full-page newspaper ads, show a feistier public attitude as Andersen fights the criminal indictment that could put the 89-year-old accounting company out of business.

The campaign includes full-page ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, under the banner "Why we're fighting back." The U.S. government's indictment of the firm for its role in the Enron scandal is "tragically wrong," the ads say, adding: "We look forward to our day in court."

Andersen's lawyers pleaded innocent Wednesday to an obstruction of justice charge and called the first indictment to arise out of the Enron Corp. collapse "senseless."

"We would not put our clients at risk with something like that," Gene Frauenheim, managing partner of the beleaguered auditing firm's Houston office, said after the company's court appearance Wednesday.

Employees wearing "I am Andersen" T-shirts and carrying "Save Andersen" placards ringed the Houston courthouse Wednesday where Andersen pleaded innocent.

"We wanted people to know there are faces that go with Arthur Andersen," said David Howard, an Andersen employee for 28 years, at the Houston rally.

Executives have urged employees to express their anger about the indictment to their congressmen and the Justice Department.

The company also took out full-page advertisements in leading newspapers, headlined "Why we're fighting back." They called the government's action "a tragically wrong indictment of our whole firm" and "a political broadside rather than a focus on the facts."

Andersen officials insist the employees' efforts are not so much directed from above as tapping into frustrations shared throughout the firm, whose name has crumbled almost overnight as a result of its role as auditor for bankrupt Enron Corp.

"This is less the firm's strategy than a grass-roots expression of innocent people's feelings about being unfairly tarred by the actions of a few," said spokesman Patrick Dorton.

Accounting industry experts voiced doubts about whether the campaign can work, particularly with the exodus of blue-chip clients growing daily. BB&T Corp., one of the nation's largest consumer banks, defected Thursday, a day after Houston energy company Dynegy Corp. did so. Both replaced Andersen with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Katherine Dorn, a campus recruiter who works at Andersen's Chicago headquarters, said she was stunned by the speed of Andersen's unraveling and concerned about possible layoffs.

"There is a general feeling of shock and disbelief among so many of the employees who had nothing to do directly with the Enron audit or destruction of documents," said Dorn, 24, who has joined in the petition-signing and letter-writing campaign.

Industry experts expressed their sympathy with rank and file Andersen employees.

"There are a whole lot of people who work there who had nothing to do with this situation in any shape or form, and you hate to see their lives thrown into turmoil," said Joseph Carcello, professor of accounting at the University of Tennessee.