Mary Mosiman hasn't grasped what she's up against

“Great article written by the Des Moines Register!” State Auditor Mary Mosiman tweeted on January 19, along with a link to a story by William Petroski about a video her office created to help city elected officials spot and prevent financial misconduct. “We have been working hard and I am excited to share what we have been up to.”

Later the same morning, Democratic state auditor candidate Rob Sand argued that Mosiman could have stopped theft and malfeasance by Ric Lumbard, former executive director of the Iowa Communications Network. A State Auditor’s report released on January 18 identified “$379,547.65 of improper disbursements and undeposited collections,” prompting the firing of Lumbard and two aides. Upon further investigation, Sand found that Mosiman was absent more often than any other member of the Iowa Telecommunications & Technology Committee, which is supposed to oversee the state broadband network’s management. When she was present, Mosiman “barely participated,” asking just three questions in four years of meetings.

It was the latest sign that Mosiman’s work will face far more scrutiny during this year’s campaign than she has experienced since being appointed to the job in 2013.

SUBSTANDARD OVERSIGHT

For highlights on Lumbard’s “misspending, cronyism and self-dealing during his tenure, mostly linked to a Christian charity he also runs,” see Ryan Foley’s report for the Associated Press and Clark Kauffman’s Des Moines Register story about the state audit. It’s shocking no one on ICN’s oversight committee picked up on the unjustified purchases, hirings, and promotion decisions. That was the crux of the statement Sand’s campaign released on January 19:

TAXPAYER’S WATCHDOG PERSONALLY ASLEEP ON DUTY

ITTN meeting minutes show that the current State Auditor missed more oversight meetings than any other Board Member by 30% and asked only 3 questions, ever, in 4 years of meetings

If the current State Auditor had done her duty of personally overseeing the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) from her seat on the Iowa Telecommunications & Technology Committee (ITTC), she could have prevented nearly $400,000 improper disbursements and uncollected deposits at the ICN. She was on the ITTC for fired former director Ric Lumbard’s entire tenure as Executive Director. But the State Auditor Office’s report, issued instead after the ICN was defrauded, determined the ITTC “does not take an active role” in oversight, and that “input was not provided” for significant ICN decisions.

Former Assistant Attorney General Rob Sand and current candidate for State Auditor did not stop at reading the report. He did what he is known for: investigate. Sand has prosecuted more public corruption and major financial crime in Iowa than anyone else over the last decade. Sand asked: “Why, despite a legal mandate for the ITTC review actual income and expenses under Iowa Code 8D.3(3)(f), did the State Auditor not question massive mileage charges by Lumbard? Or an insane salary increase for his ‘best friend?’ Or that the ‘best friend’ wasn’t qualified for the job?” Yesterday Sand investigated board meeting minutes from 2014 through the discovery of this problem and found the following:

1. The current State Auditor missed more ITTC meetings than any other board member, by 30%.
2. When she did show up, the State Auditor almost never participated, asking only 3 questions, in four entire years of board meetings.

“The State Auditor personally, in missing more oversight meetings than any other board member and also in almost never participating when actually present, unfortunately failed in her duties to Iowa taxpayers.”

“She could have stopped this at the start,” said Sand, “by showing up and asking questions.”

“As Assistant Attorney General, I worked longer hours if I took a case to trial instead of settling, but still got paid the same. Yet I took many more cases to trial than the average prosecutor. We need to wake up the watchdog by electing a hardworking, energetic State Auditor.”

Speaking to the Register’s Kauffman, Mosiman acknowledged the commission hadn’t done its job.

Under Iowa law, the five-member commission overseeing the ICN was supposed to be providing direct oversight of Lumbard. Instead, Mosiman said, the panel was acting in more of an advisory role, with Lumbard in control.

“Trust, but verify,” Mosiman said. “I can attest that this commission operated more as an advisory commission. Some of the senior members who’ve served on the commission for many years have said, ‘This is probably how the board has been operating for the last decade or so.’

“However, they could remember that in earlier years they did play a more active role, partly by sitting with the chief financial officer individually, and having a more active role in the overall management.” […]

Mosiman said she learned of some of the improprieties at ICN in July, shortly after Lumbard suffered a heart attack during a staff meeting at the ICN offices.

It was only after Lumbard was sidelined with health issues that other staffers stepped forward and informed Mosiman, the attorney general and the governor’s office of concerns they had with ICN’s purchase of two semi-trailers loaded with video production equipment.

In other words, if Lumbard had remained healthy, Iowans would still be squandering money on his travel, unqualified staffers he hired and overpaid, and equipment his agency didn’t need.

Sand told me a few months ago that as an assistant attorney general prosecuting financial crimes, he sometimes was unable to use analysis from the state auditor’s office, because that document wasn’t created with “a court case in mind.” Expect Sand to closely examine other audits Mosiman’s office releases this year, ready to highlight flaws or oversights.

MINIMAL FUNDRAISING

Mosiman didn’t have to raise much money for her first statewide campaign in 2014. But she has known for months that she would face an energetic opponent this year. Sand revealed on December 10 that during his first month as a candidate, he received gifts from more individuals than Moisman had during the entire 2014 election cycle (548 donors).

In case she hadn’t clued in before, Mosiman had three weeks to kick her fundraising into high gear, so she could report impressive numbers in the filings due on January 19. That task should not have been difficult. The auditor is a political ally of Governor Kim Reynolds, who was raising money hand over fist.

Yet Mosiman reported raising just $28,392 during all of 2017. Only three of her donors gave $1,000 or more. Only two people wrote checks in December, often a big month for political giving. After starting the year with $41,621.09 in the bank and spending $7,554.44, Mosiman’s campaign finished the pre-election year with $62,458.65 cash on hand. She will need much more to run a statewide campaign involving mail or paid advertising on radio or television.

Previous reports indicate Mosiman raised $15,450 during 2015 and $23,290 during 2016.

Meanwhile, since launching his campaign in mid-November, Sand raised $200,854,50. Almost all the money came from individuals; just $2,500 from political action committees. After spending $34,706.02, Sand had $166,148.48 cash on hand as of December 31.

Statewide candidates will file their next campaign disclosures on May 19. I wonder how many of Reynolds’ major donors will write five-figure checks to Mosiman before then. “Wake up the watchdog” has become Sand campaign’s tag line. The events of the last week should shake Mosiman out of her complacency, both as an auditor and as an incumbent seeking re-election in a landscape quite different from 2014.

UPDATE: State Senator Matt McCoy criticized Mosiman on January 23 for missing board meetings and asking few questions about happenings at the ICN, William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register.

“I think that it is very telling that we had a state auditor sitting on the board that acted more like a potted plant than a state auditor,” said McCoy, who serves on the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee. He also faulted the oversight of the five-member ICN board — formally known as the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission — whose members are paid about $14,000 to $20,000 annually.

Mosiman disputed McCoy’s criticism, telling the Register Tuesday she acknowledges missing 18 of 55 board meetings since May 13, 2013. But she said she has verified the majority of the missed meetings were due to her primary responsibilities as state auditor, which always come first.

“The Code of Iowa is clear the governing authority for (the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission) is the five voting members,” Mosiman said.

Mosiman also said McCoy wrote a recent letter which cited her audit in documenting the misspending of money at the Iowa Communications Network, and strongly disagreed with his contention that she didn’t take her oversight duties seriously.

“I am proud to perform my duty as State Auditor investigating this situation and issuing this report,” she said.

Sand responded via Twitter,

Today the Auditor ADMITTED missing the most ICN oversight mtgs. Her excuse? I had no vote on the board.

As our lead public corruption prosecutor, I had no vote on any jury. But I did show up & ask questions to get the right result.

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