Key GOP lawmaker not interested in limiting state auditor's subpoena power

Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan responded to recent election losses by limiting the powers of some Democratic statewide officials. GOP lawmakers are rumored to be considering similar legislation in Iowa, where Rob Sand just took office as the first Democrat to serve as state auditor in more than 50 years.

But Republican State Representative Bobby Kaufmann, who chairs the Iowa House State Government Committee, told Bleeding Heartland he has no interest in revoking or curtailing the subpoena power of Sand’s office.

The state auditor is charged with ensuring “government officials use taxpayer dollars for the intended purposes to benefit the public.” Staff conduct financial audits of state departments and agencies and some local government bodies, as well as “comprehensive performance audits” and investigations of possible misuse of public funds.

The Iowa Constitution calls for a state auditor to be elected to a four-year term but says little else about the position. State law outlines the office’s powers and duties and stipulates, “The auditor of state shall, in all matters pertaining to an authorized examination, have power to issue subpoenas of all kinds, administer oaths and examine witnesses, either orally or in writing […].”

During last year’s campaign, Sand repeatedly promised that if elected, he would use his subpoena power to thoroughly examine matters of public concern, such as how private companies are managing the Medicaid program.

Multiple sources indicated in December that at least one Republican lawmaker has asked for a bill to be drafted to revoke or curtail the auditor’s subpoena power. Senator Roby Smith, who chairs the Iowa Senate State Government Committee, did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment, nor did Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver or Senate President Charles Schneider.

I was able to reach Representative Kaufmann by phone on December 21. Asked whether his committee might consider legislation to limit the state auditor’s subpoena power, he said I’d caught him “completely off guard.”

“I have no bills in the works regarding anybody’s subpoena powers, let alone the auditor’s. It’s the first I’m hearing of it. I have no interest in it at this time.”

Kaufmann added that he always tells colleagues he will listen to anyone’s proposal. However,

I really don’t have any interest in that right now, with any office-holder. […] If any of our statewides ever abused their power, I would certainly look into making sure that they did their job correctly. And that goes for anybody of any political party. But specifically targeting one office without any interactions that have happened, it just doesn’t seem very prudent to me.

This week, I made more unsuccessful attempts to contact Senators Smith, Whitver, and Schneider, and circled back with Kaufmann in case he had discussed the matter with GOP colleagues. He told me by phone on January 2,

As the chair of the committee that that would go through, I just don’t have any interest in that. I believe that all the statewides should be treated equally. I just don’t see singling out any office–secretary of state, secretary of ag, auditor–before they’ve allegedly done anything that would merit such a move. I just don’t have any interest in that.

Sand commented on January 4,

Changing a constitutional office’s duties because the current occupant doesn’t share your party is the worst kind of politics. It sacrifices checks and balances on the altar of temporary convenience. If Republicans really go down this road, we have to ask them what truth are they afraid will discover. But I think Iowans are better than that.

I will update this post as needed if any Republican senators confirm or deny whether the auditor’s subpoena power will be on the table during the legislature’s 2019 session.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin