Iowa Senate Republicans—for the second time—voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that limits the ability of State Auditor Rob Sand’s office to monitor government funds.
In a 33-16 vote, Senate Republicans approved SF 478, which they argued will protect Iowans’ privacy and keep the auditor’s office in line with standard government operating procedures even though the office already practices those measures.
The bill takes away the auditor’s office’s ability to subpoena records for audits. Instead, representatives from Sand’s office, the entity being audited, and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office will meet in arbitration to decide if a record can be used in the audit. A majority vote decides how that matter will be decided and those decisions are final.
“It’s a bill that reports to solve a problem that really isn’t a problem,” said Sen. Janice Weiner (D-Iowa City). “I love the drama, but the drama we’re seeing is really just smoke and mirrors. I am not aware of a single time in the entire history of the auditor’s office when that office—regardless of who occupied it—has released confidential information.”
The bill now heads to Reynolds’ desk and she has previously expressed her disdain for Sand. Last May, she asked voters to give her a “State Auditor who won’t sue me every time I turn around.” Sand has never sued Reynolds’ office, but an investigation conducted by his office determined the governor had misspent $450,000 in federal funds.
While Iowa Senate and House Republicans previously claimed this legislation was not politically-motivated or about Sand personally, Sen. Mike Bousselot (R-Ankeny), who managed the bill, took several digs at Sand during the debate.
Bousselot brought back a debunked 2018 Republican attack on Sand during his initial run auditor by repeatedly mentioning that Sand, an attorney by trade and former assistant attorney general, was not a CPA. According to Iowa Code Chapter 11, there are no specific job requirements listed for auditor of state and it states the office can employ CPAs, which it does.
Bousselot also said it’s the job of the legislature to be the watchdog of the watchdog—the nickname of state auditor’s office—although that office is independently elected by Iowa voters.
The original version of SF 478, a relatively noncontroversial proposal, was a Trojan horse led by Bousselot. Minutes before the Iowa Senate initially debated the one-page bill on March 7, Bousselot introduced a four-page amended version of the bill that changed the scope of the bill that neither Senate Democrats nor Sand had seen, provided input for or were made aware of until minutes before the debate.
Then and now, Bousselot said the bill was about protecting the private information of Iowans. He also said the basis of this bill was a 2021 Iowa Supreme Court case involving Sand’s office and the University of Iowa; however, Sand said no Republican officials have ever approached him about the case. The court also ruled in Sand’s favor in that case.
“I listened to your opening comments Senator Bousselot and, quite honestly, this is governance by gaslighting Iowans,” said Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines). “We have an auditor in our state because we need checks and balances in government and we need a taxpayer watchdog and Iowans know that. So for you to try to turn the tune to try to say this is about privacy for Iowans is really outrageous.”
SF 478 was panned by the National State Auditors Association, the Institute of Internal Auditors, and the Association of Local Government Auditors. Before the Iowa House approved an amended version of the bill last week, a fiscal note from the nonpartisan Iowa Legislative Services Agency (LSA) said this bill limits the Iowa Auditor of State Office’s ability to adequately audit more than $12.1 billion in state funds.
by Ty Rushing
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