We focus on what invoking the public interest ‘does’ for the International Accounting Standards Board [IASB], as a transnational, private regulator. Our study focuses on a snapshot from 2010 to 2015 post the global financial crisis, as the IASB and the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation suffered a legitimacy crisis. We are interested in how the IASB restated the meaning of the public interest and the impact of invoking different conceptions of the public interest. With respect to metonyms, this article employs rhetorical redescription to identify the implications of defining the public interest as procedural due process, substantive due process and outcome-focused. At the same time, through careful interpretation, the article examines the rival metaphors attached to meanings of the public interest. By examining what invoking the public interest ‘does’, our ontological analysis illustrates how these redescriptions constituted a rhetorical strategy for organizational legitimacy, how the meanings operated as a form of ‘ideological cover’, and the political impact of constructing the ‘public interest’ as a floating signifier. We argue that these strategies operated to reinstitute the technocratic power of the IASB.