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State auditor candidates discuss job's authority

State auditor candidates discuss job's authority

October 21st, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Candidates for Missouri state auditor would propose some changes to the office, they told the News Tribune.

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Missouri's state auditor is the only one of the six statewide elected officials who is chosen during the so-called "midterm elections" — and five people are on the Nov. 6 ballot for election to the post.

In the order they will appear on that ballot, the candidates are Republican Saundra McDowell; Democrat Nicole Galloway, the incumbent; Libertarian Sean O'Toole; Green Party candidate Don Fitz; and Constitution Party candidate Jacob Luetkemeyer.

Only O'Toole didn't respond when the News Tribune, last week, asked the five candidates about their understanding of what the auditor does and whether they wished to see changes in those duties.

The four who answered the News Tribune's questions all pointed to the constitutional requirements and statutes, with none suggesting the auditor had additional authority.

The state Constitution defines the auditor's duties: "He shall establish appropriate systems of accounting for all public officials of the state, post-audit the accounts of all state agencies and audit the treasury at least once annually. He shall make all other audits and investigations required by law, and shall make an annual report to the governor and general assembly. He shall establish appropriate systems of accounting for the political subdivisions of the state, supervise their budgeting systems, and audit their accounts as provided by law. No duty shall be imposed on him by law which is not related to the supervising and auditing of the receipt and expenditure of public funds."

The candidates did have some opinions on changes they'd like to see to improve the auditor's work.

McDowell noted she's proposed an "Every Dollar Works" plan that includes "increasing the scope and responsibility of the Missouri auditor's office (so that) anywhere taxpayer funds go, the auditor's office would have authority to look into them and make sure they are being used efficiently, effectively and legally."

McDowell said more than 1,000 "funds" have been set up in state agencies, under elected officials' control, and have gone unaudited.

Also, she said, her plan "calls for increasing the Missouri auditor's office (authority) to ensure that all taxpayer funds sent to government at every level can be audited by the auditor."

Galloway noted she already has worked with lawmakers "on a bipartisan basis to pass a bill expanding the auditor's authority to investigate public corruption" — but still needs to become law after former Gov. Eric Greitens vetoed it last year.

Galloway said current law makes it difficult for federal, state or local law enforcement to ask the auditor for "assistance (to) audit potential fraud and abuse allegations. If law enforcement or a county prosecutor suspects fraud, they should have the ability to request my office's forensic auditing expertise."

Galloway's public corruption bill also would strengthen "the felony penalties for public corruption," she said, ensuring taxpayers "can be made whole for tax dollars that were stolen by public officials."

Fitz told the News Tribune the auditor's power should be expanded to "audit all counties, cities and other political subdivisions. The auditor should have authority to audit a local government when the auditor finds there is good cause to do so, based on evidence of financial neglect or misdealing."

He said he also wants to look at any state expenses in buying products like Round-Up, a controversial herbicide that, some have argued, causes cancer, and at the state's possible "financial malfeasance" in its relationships with "energy corporations" (like Ameren for its Callaway Nuclear Plant operations) "which may promote interests of the corporation."

Luetkemeyer said he wants to see the auditor use more modern technology to make it easier to audit cities and counties.

"Current law provides that, when the people of a county not having its own auditor, or another political subdivision, requests an audit, the audit is performed at the expense of the entity being audited," he explained. "In many cases, the high costs currently associated with (a state) audit prevent people from having these entities audited.

"I believe using blockchain technology, we could implement an updated accounting system that would reduce the costs to these entities for future audits, bringing the price down so they could afford to have periodic audits performed."

He said the state currently is auditing only "3-5 percent of these entities" because of "a lack in efficiency in the (auditor's) office currently."

Luetkemeyer said using the new technology would reduce overall costs to the communities. He wasn't sure legislation supporting the change would be required.