Audit regulators have settled disciplinary actions with audit firm Marcum, an affiliated firm, and its former auditor independence leader over independence violations.

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board says Marcum and Marcum Bernstein & Pinchuk racked up multiple auditor independence violations from 2012 to 2015 as two senior partners made public statements advocating investment in companies that were also audit clients. The PCAOB says it’s the first time the board has sanctioned a firm for publicly advocating its audit clients as investment opportunities.

Marcum and Marcum BP are both registered with the PCAOB to audit publicly held companies. Marcum is among nearly a dozen firms that audit more than 100 issuer clients, making them subject to annual inspection by the PCAOB.

The PCAOB says the violations occurred in connection with the firms’ annual conferences focused on microcaps and China, which were designed to bring together companies and prospective investors. The firms not only violated independence requirements by advocating for clients, but they also failed to appropriately design, implement, and monitor their independence policies and procedures, the PCAOB says.

In a prepared statement, Marcum indicated it no longer holds its microcap conferences. “Marcum consented to the order without admitting or denying the order’s findings,” the firm said. “Marcum agreed to voluntarily settle with the PCAOB rather than engage in protracted litigation with one of its primary regulators. Independence and audit quality remain our top priority.”

The PCAOB imposed penalties of $450,000 against Marcum, $50,000 against Marcum BP, and $25,000 against Alfonse Gregory Giugliano, who is a partner and was in charge of the firm’s auditor independence compliance during the relevant period. The actions also require Marcum to engage an independent consultant to review its policies, procedures, staffing, and training around auditor independence.

In addition to being the first action to focus on auditors advocating for clients, it’s also the first time the PCAOB has sanctioned an annually inspected firm’s head of independence for “substantially contributing to the firm’s independence violations,” the PCAOB said. It’s also the first time the PCAOB has mandated the retention of an independent consultant, the board said.