116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Candidates running to be Iowa’s taxpayer watchdog both worked in state government and say they have demonstrated their ability to hold public agencies accountable for waste, fraud and abuse.
Democratic State Auditor Rob Sand is running for re-election to a second four-year term. He faces Republican challenger Todd Halbur, who served as chief financial officer of a state agency and has banking and finance experience.
Neither are licensed certified public accountants.
Sand, a lawyer, was criticized when running for the office in 2018 for not being a CPA. A state licensing board determined there are no legal requirements to possess a CPA license to hold the office.
Current town of residence: Clive
Occupation: Small business owner of a school supply distribution company and licensed Realtor
Political experience: First-time candidate
Current town of residence: Des Moines
Occupation: State auditor
Political experience: Iowa Auditor since January 2019
Halbur owns a school supply distribution company and is a licensed real estate agent. He also served as CFO at the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, which dismissed him in 2018.
He recently was awarded $1 million by a Polk County jury as the result of a whistleblower lawsuit against the division and its administrator for wrongful termination. Halbur said he was fired after raising questions about excessive price markups and payments made under an improper no-bid contract.
Halbur, a first-time candidate, told The Gazette he’s a “political outsider” and “a fiscal conservative with a financial agenda Iowans want,” and who is “gonna be a fighter for the Iowa taxpayer.”
“I did have the courage, conviction and the integrity to stand up for what is right,” Halbur said during a recent recording of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS, referring to his lawsuit. “And I ultimately paid that price, and I’ll continue to do that as the state auditor.”
Halbur said he calculated the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division overcharged retailers over $8.2 million from fiscal 2013 to 2017.
Sand served in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office from 2010 to 2017 as a prosecutor of public corruption cases, including the largest lottery rigging scheme in American history.
He was elected state auditor in 2018, the first Democrat to be elected to the office in roughly 50 years.
The office is responsible for auditing the financial operations of Iowa’s state and local governments and provides guidance to CPA firms performing such audits.
Sand touts ‘aggressive’ approach
If reelected, Sand said he would continue an “aggressive,” “anti-partisan” approach to identify misspent funds.
“We’re holding insiders accountable, and working against the idea of unaccountable public servants,” Sand said during a July town hall event in Cedar Rapids.
In his first term, Sand said his office identified more than $25 million in misspent funds, and created an efficiency program to help public entities find new ways to save money.
Sand said he would continue to collect and spread ideas from Iowans that save taxpayer dollars, and to demand transparency from state government. He noted he took the University of Iowa to the Iowa Supreme Court and won, forcing it to turn over documents about a public-private partnership with a Paris-based collaborative to operate the UI utilities system for the next 50 years.
Sand, too, has called for holding state employees personally accountable for financial damages arising from lawsuits filed against the state, particularly in workplace sexual harassment cases, including going after their state pension.
“We have paid multiple millions of dollars to targets of sexual harassment,” Sand during the Cedar Rapids town hall. “But, then we have done nothing to hold the people accountable who actually committed the harassment.”
He used the example of former Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison. The state agreed to pay $4.1 million to settle claims from two women who say they were repeatedly sexually harassed by the former state director.
Halbur, appearing on “Iowa Press” alongside Sand, said he would work with lawmakers to pass stronger legislation to hold offenders accountable who are employed by the state.
Halbur: Auditor should avoid ‘partisan’ disputes
Halbur became the Republican nominee for auditor by narrowly defeating former state Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa in the June primary.
Halbur said he wants to increase the frequency of state audits of smaller local governmental agencies. Currently, Iowa communities under 2,000 population with a budget of less than $1 million are audited at least once every eight years. He said that is too long between audits, and would work with the Legislature to require audits every two years.
Halbur, speaking this summer at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, said he wants to bring a conservative approach to the office, but that the state auditor should stay out of “partisan” disputes.
Republicans have accused Sand of using the auditor’s office for partisan attacks, pointing to audits focused on Gov. Kim Reynolds. One audit led to Reynolds returning $21 million in federal COVID-19 aid that was improperly spent. Another alleged the Republican governor improperly promoted herself in a taxpayer-funded public awareness campaign during the pandemic — a claim the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board rejected.
Sand noted he also criticized members of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, most of whom are Democrats, for the same thing.
He said his office has also led investigations that cast the Reynolds administration in a favorable light, like one showing officials had accurately reported COVID-19 data in the first year of the pandemic.
He also noted he appointed a Republican, an independent and a Democrat to his senior leadership team, and has promoted people who made campaign contributions to his opponent in 2018.
“I am not here to serve myself. I am not here to extract political retribution,” Sand said in Cedar Rapids. “And so we have criticized the governor at times, but we have also defended her, depending on what the facts actually call for.”
Reynolds has publicly complained about the auditor’s office, including remarking in May that she wants a state auditor "that's not trying to sue me every time they turn around.” Sand said at the time he had never sued Reynolds.
Halbur said he would work to maintain the independence of the office and ensure all state agencies, including the governor’s office, are fiscally responsible with tax dollars.
He said he would use the office to advocate for changes that would reduce government costs in Iowa, such as getting the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division out of the wholesale liquor business.
Financial management questioned
Audits conducted by then-Auditor Mary Mosiman’s office found deficiencies in the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Divisions financial record keeping three years in a row. Those deficiencies included failure to properly report capital assets. A fiscal 2016 audit also found five of its contracts did not have adequate monitoring and review clauses and three were improperly self-renewing.
Halbur started working for the agency starting in 2015. He was responsible for planning, directing and overseeing its estimated $300 million operations, including advising the agency’s administrator and chief operating officer on cash management, inventory control, audit findings and adjustments.
Halbur said the contracts mentioned in the audit predated his joining the division.
“None of those contracts were something I prepared,” he said, adding the contracts were subsequently revised.
A review of online court records also show Halbur was personally sued for unpaid debts totaling more than $65,000 and had his wages withheld to pay for court judgments against him.
Halbur said the claims happened due to the result of the financial crisis back in 2008 and 2009, were paid, satisfied and dismissed.
Early voting has started in Iowa. The election is Nov. 8.
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