Bring on the clash of the auditors

Was anyone else disappointed that the “major endorsement” Terry Branstad’s campaign hyped yesterday turned out to be State Auditor David Vaudt? He’s not exactly a celebrity, and his stamp of approval only reinforces that Branstad is the Republican establishment candidate. I guess the big deal is that Vaudt normally does not endorse in competitive Republican primaries, but when I think “major endorsement,” I think game-changer, and Vaudt doesn’t fit the bill.

At yesterday’s press conference, Vaudt cited several of Branstad’s accomplishments as well as his proposals for the future. For example, he praised the 1985 government reorganization. It takes guts for Branstad to keep bragging about “cutting out half the state agencies” when Iowa’s general fund budget increased by 166 percent during his tenure, and the number of state employees increased by about 15 percent (from 53,342 in 1983 to 61,400 in 1999).

Vaudt also credited Branstad with implementing budget reforms to use generally accepted accounting principles, establishing the rainy day fund, spending no more than 99 percent of expected revenues, and leaving Iowa with a $900 million surplus in 1999 (which happened to be near the peak of an economic cycle). As State Representative Chris Rants has noted, Governor Branstad wanted to spend more:

Republicans were unwilling to go along with Branstad’s desire to spend more money – a fact he forgets when he talks about how much money was left in the reserves when he left office as it was only there because the legislature wouldn’t agree to his spending plans.

Vaudt praised Branstad for promising to reduce the cost of state government by 15 percent. We still haven’t seen specifics about how Branstad will achieve that. The 2011 budget was adopted in March; it’s past time for Branstad to tell us which services or programs he would eliminate to put us on track to reduce the size of government by 15 percent. Cutting funds for preschool programs, family-planning services and Area Education Agencies administrators won’t be nearly enough to keep his promises on spending.

Vaudt’s endorsement invites questions about Richard Johnson, who was state auditor during most of Branstad’s time as governor. Johnson famously endorsed Fred Grandy during the 1994 Republican primary and now co-chairs Bob Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial campaign. Asked about Johnson yesterday, Branstad said,

“First of all let me say, I’ve learned a lot.  Dick Johnson made some valid criticisms back in the 80’s when the Democrats were in control of both houses of the legislature.  As a result we put together the Committee to Reform State Spending in 1991 and passed the spending reforms.  I didn’t just accept the legislature saying, ‘That’s all we can do.’  I brought them back twice in 1992 until we got all the spending reforms.”

Branstad went on to say that, after Republicans got control of the Iowa House in the 1992 elections, they passed the 99% spending limitation, and he strictly enforced that limit the rest of the time he was in office.

Whatever reforms Branstad enacted in 1992 weren’t enough to satisfy Johnson two years later. Johnson also called out Branstad for misleading claims about reducing the size of government. Chet Culver’s campaign released several news clips yesterday about Johnson and Branstad, including this one:

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that “Where Branstad claims a 16 percent reduction in the number of management employees in state government, for example, Johnson contends the reality is that jobs weren’t eliminated. Titles were changed. ‘The people and the payroll are still there.’” (Cedar Rapids Gazette, 6/4/1994)

I posted the Culver campaign’s release after the jump for those who want to stroll down memory lane about Branstad’s record on fiscal issues.

Speaking of Branstad’s accountability problem, the Des Moines Register reports today that he spoke out publicly for a racetrack in Cedar Rapids in 1984. Branstad recently criticized Governor Chet Culver for advocating approval of four new applications for casino licenses. He claims that unlike Culver, he never directly contacted members of the Racing and Gaming Commission to urge approval of the Cedar Rapids racetrack. I highly doubt that the commissioners were unaware of then-Governor Branstad’s opinion. Most governors make their views known to state commissions via backdoor channels.  

Statement issued by Governor Chet Culver’s re-election campaign, May 11, 2010:

VAUDT SHOWS HIS POLITICAL COLORS AND LACK OF FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

DES MOINES -How does State Auditor David Vaudt, who claims to be fiscally responsible, endorse the gubernatorial candidate who ‘kept two sets of books’?

“With all due respect, David Vaudt’s endorsement does not compare to the triple A bond rating earned by Governor Culver for his fiscal stewardship during these tough economic times,” said Culver/Judge Campaign Manager Donn Stanley.

As voters remember, former State Auditor Richard Johnson believed that then-Governor Terry Branstad ‘kept two sets of books’ to hide the ballooning state deficit. Johnson has endorsed Bob Vander Plaats’ campaign for Governor this election.

“Terry Branstad spent himself into a deficit and ‘kept two sets of books’ to hide the truth from Iowans. Vaudt’s endorsement is the latest example of his political posturing on budget issues in this campaign.”

Auditor Johnson accused Branstad of trying to cut the Auditor’s Office budget as retribution. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that “State Auditor Richard Johnson thinks Gov. Terry Branstad is trying to take away some of the auditor’s authority because of Johnson ‘s criticism of the state’s bookkeeping procedures. ‘If the governor wants fiscal responsibility, he is going in the wrong direction,’ Johnson said. ‘I take this as a matter of retribution, shooting the messenger, rather than improving government.’[Cedar Rapids Gazette, 1/15/1992]

Terry Branstad stormed out of an Executive Council Meeting out of anger at Auditor Johnson. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that ‘Monday’s Executive Council meeting ended contentiously, with State Auditor Richard Johnson accusing Gov. Terry Branstad of using his fiscal 1993 budget askings to hit back at critics and Branstad goading Johnson to run against him. The quarrel between the state’s top elected Republicans ended when Branstad walked out before the council took up Johnson ‘s proposal to publicly oppose the governor’s recommendation to eliminate the council as a cost-savings measure. Branstad contended that the meeting was adjourned, but the three other members disagreed. They stayed on to debate the issue and vote, 3-0, in opposition to Branstad ‘s proposal.’ [Cedar Rapids Gazette, 1/28/1992]

Johnson says Branstad budget “tricks” result in deficit. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that “State Auditor Richard Johnson has said lagging revenues and budgetary “tricks” could result in a $90 million deficit June 30. He has said next year’s deficit could rise to $225 million.” [Cedar Rapids Gazette, 6/2/1992]

Auditor Johnson issued an “adverse opinion” on budget signed by Branstad. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that “Johnson issued an ‘adverse’ opinion with the state’s fiscal 1991 CAFR, challenging the year-ending balance calculated under the legal bookkeeping basis used to calculate Iowa’s budget. The auditor has indicated that he likely will attach a similar opinion with this fiscal 1992 report.” [Cedar Rapids Gazette, 12/19/1992]

Auditor Johnson said Branstad wasn’t “honest” with Iowans. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that “the Sheldahl Republican [Johnson] added that his decision to take sides [endorse Grandy] also was spurred by ‘a trend toward distorted information, a trend toward not being completely honest with the public’ in the GOP gubernatorial campaign during recent weeks.” [Cedar Rapids Gazette, 4/27/1994]

Auditor Johnson said Branstad “cooked the books” for political purposes. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that Johnson said, “It’s [Branstad’s claim to have erased the deficit] another political ploy to cook the books so to speak to make it look good for him.’” [Cedar Rapids Gazette, 6/1/1994] Auditor Johnson said Branstad falsely claimed to have eliminated management positions. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that “Where Branstad claims a 16 percent reduction in the number of management employees in state government, for example, Johnson contends the reality is that jobs weren’t eliminated. Titles were changed. ‘The people and the payroll are still there.’” [Cedar Rapids Gazette, 6/4/1994]

Auditor Johnson said Branstad falsely claimed to have eliminated management positions. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that “Where Branstad claims a 16 percent reduction in the number of management employees in state government, for example, Johnson contends the reality is that jobs weren’t eliminated. Titles were changed. ‘The people and the payroll are still there.’” [Cedar Rapids Gazette, 6/4/1994]

  • Vaudt

    Dave Vaudt gets a free ridge, disappointing.  I asked Matt Unger a campaign aide to Patty Judge about having no candidate in the Auditor’s race, it wasn’t mentioned at any of the county conventions that I’m aware of.    

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