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Pure politics is behind limits on the state auditor
Republicans who control the Iowa Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds that would place new limits on what personal information the state auditor can demand during audits, while also setting up an arbitration system that would blunt the auditor’s ability to investigate wrongdoing.
Iowa’s current state auditor, Rob Sand, is the lone Democrat holding statewide office after being reelected last fall. Republicans insist this has nothing to do with politics, even as they’ve expanded the powers of new Republican Attorney General Brenna Bird.
Their claims don’t pass the smell test. This is clearly a politically motivated effort to curtail the powers of the auditor. It would be in the best interest of Iowans for Reynolds to veto this legislation, Senate File 478.
It’s bad enough that lawmakers want to block the auditor from obtaining information that could be critical to his role as a taxpayers’ watchdog. But Republicans also want to create an arbitration structure that would require any dispute the auditor has with a government agency to be resolved by a three-member panel. It would not allow the dispute to be taken to court.
The panel would consist of a representative from the auditor’s office, a representative of the agency being investigated and a member appointed by the governor. It’s easy to see how an auditor’s effort to uncover wrongdoing would be scuttled by such a panel.
“It remains the greatest pro-corruption bill in state history, and the worst perversion of checks and balances in Iowa history,” Sand said during a recent news conference. “To take an independently elected office that is in the Iowa Constitution and subject its work to the approval of the very same entity that it is attempting to audit, perverts checks and balances, plain and simple.”
We agree with Sands’ assessment. This bill seems tailor made to avoid any embarrassing disclosure of wrongdoing by an agency in the Republican-controlled executive branch.
If the bill becomes law, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency reports that taking powers away from the auditory could jeopardize $12 billion in federal funding for an array of programs. If Sand can’t fully and independently audit the agencies receiving the money, federal awards may be withheld.
Iowa code and federal law already require the state auditor to maintain strict confidentiality rules when handling personal information. A bipartisan group of state auditors and accounting professions has urged lawmakers to abandon the legislation.
Iowans elected Sand to be a watchdog protecting tax dollars. Reynolds should let him do his job.
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