For Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand, the last six months have been particularly frustrating for various reasons.
“We have a broken political system with no real accountability for people that are in high elected office,” Sand said at a town hall in Spencer on Thursday.
After a rocky legislative session that tested his power as state auditor, Sand is traveling the state to talk about the latest legislation, his Public Innovations and Efficiencies program, and the political state of Iowa.
How does he feel about the law that took his power?
Sand told the crowd that SF 478, an act that makes it impossible for the state auditor to have access to necessary files unless they are required under law, abuses the fundamental idea of checks and balances in government.
“If there’s one single idea embedded in the Constitution, it’s that freedom is best protected by a system of checks and balances, because checks and balances prevent the abuses of power that take away our freedoms,” Sand said. “And with this legislation, we are going to eliminate those.”
Examples of files an auditor may need include criminal identification files of law enforcement agencies, personal information records, medical records, and information records concerning cybersecurity or infrastructure.
If there is a dispute over a record the state auditor’s office wanted to look at, they will now take the report to an independent body to decide whether or not the report can be viewed. The three-person arbitration panel includes one person from the state agency—someone Sand says typically works for the governor—one person from the state auditor office, and a third person selected by the governor.
Despite opposition to the law from groups like the American Institution of CPAs and the Institute for Internal Auditors, Sand said the legislation was heavily promoted by Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican legislative leaders, which got it across the finish line.
Overall, however, Sand said SF 478 won’t impact how his office conducts audits.
“We’re going to continue doing the job the way we’ve always done,” he said. “It’s going to be up to the administration to see how often they want to hide records from us. But every time they do that, we are going to talk about that with the public.”
How will his office handle the voucher bill?
The Students First Act was a popular topic at the town hall, too.
Local public teachers asked whether or not Sand would be able to monitor the funds of HF 68, the school voucher law that provides public education funding for K-12 private school students.
Sand said protections private schools enjoy might hamper his ability to do that.
“There are no public meeting requirements for private schools, even when they take public dollars. There are no public records requirements for private schools, even when they take public dollars. There is no annual audit requirement for private schools, even when they take public dollars,” Sand said. “So, if [private schools] are doing things that are technically within the rules, how are we going to learn about them if we can’t see what’s going on?”
He said it was like driving with your eyes closed.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen with your tax dollars once they go to a private school as tuition,” Sand said. “It’s just a lack of transparency, and my eyelids are not transparent.”
How does Sand handle working with the GOP?
When it comes to working with Republicans, Sand—the lone Democrat in statewide office—said it’s kind of like being married.
“Imagine how fun your life would be if you woke up every morning and immediately talked about things you know are going to force an argument,” he said. “You don’t do it. You get up and you figure out what’s going on in life that [everyone] can agree on.”
However, when he contacts the governor, he said he can never get through.
“I emailed [Reynolds] three times,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I’m supposed to send an email before I conclude there’s no interest there. … You don’t want to meet with me. It is what it is.”
Instead, Sand said his town halls help him connect with Iowans who may not share his beliefs—an important way to ensure accountability and transparency, he said.
“I think it’s important to let people come talk to me, even if they’re sitting there on behalf of Republicans,” he said. “I’d rather show up and do the job that needs to get done.”
by Grace Katzer
If you enjoy stories like these, make sure to sign up for Iowa Starting Line’s newsletter.
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. Find ISL on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.