Rob Sand has big financial edge in state auditor race

State Auditor Rob Sand has far outpaced his two challengers in fundraising, the latest campaign finance disclosures show. The Democrat’s re-election campaign is on track to greatly outspend the GOP nominee, unless some other Republican organization comes to the rescue.

Sand’s campaign began the year with $906,262.58 cash on hand and raised $221,502.54 between January 1 and May 14, according to the latest disclosure filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

The incumbent’s itemized contributions take up more than 100 pages. Most donations were for $100 or less. Whereas about two-thirds of what the campaign raised during 2021 came from Sand’s relatives, the latest report shows only one $5,000 gift from a family member (the candidate’s brother-in-law). Seven other donors gave $5,000 each. The largest contributor so far this year was Joe Crookham, a former major Republican donor, who gave $10,000.

Sand tweeted this week that his campaign had more than 1,200 first-time donors and more than 1,600 unique donors. He added, “For perspective: in 4.5 months we raised nearly what my predecessor raised for the entire 2018 campaign cycle.” His campaign manager Zachary Meunier noted that the Republican state auditor Sand defeated in 2018 (Mary Mosiman) “had 1,119 contributions for the entire campaign.”

Hundreds of Sand’s donations came in after WHO-TV reporter Taj Simmons posted a video on May 8 showing Governor Kim Reynolds yelling at a campaign event, “I need a state auditor that’s not trying to sue me every time they turn around. Focus on your office!”

Sand highlighted the clip repeatedly on his social media feeds. His office has never sued the governor; rather, he has issued reports questioning some of the governor’s uses of public funds. Speaking to WHO-TV’s Dave Price, Sand pointed out that his job is to audit other government bodies. Also, the only public entity his office has sued is the University of Iowa. (That case went to the Iowa Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled in the auditor’s favor.)

Sand’s campaign reported spending $77,531.12 during the first four and a half months of the year. The largest expenses were for staff salaries ($17,706.39), research ($9,250), compliance consulting ($7,500), an email list ($7,500), and digital consulting ($5,300).

As of May 14, the Democrat had $1,050,234 cash on hand, a large amount for a statewide office-holder other than the governor. Four years ago, Sand became the first state auditor candidate in Iowa history to air television commercials. His re-election bid will have the resources to support paid media as well.

The two Republicans who filed nominating papers for state auditor haven’t fared well in fundraising so far.

I anticipated that former State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa would struggle to raise money. Indeed, the establishment candidate (endorsed by the governor and Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst) raised just $25,480 during is the four months after launching her campaign in January. The itemized contributions show that nearly 20 percent of that amount came from Council Bluffs donor Ted Hoff, who gave $5,000. One person gave $2,000 and six gave $1,000 each (including former Governor Terry Branstad, former U.S. Representative Greg Ganske, and frequent GOP donor Gary Kirke). Hanusa also loaned her campaign $500.

Hanusa’s campaign reported spending $13,274.82; the biggest expenses were for a staffer’s salary, a website, and campaign signs. As of May 14, the front-runner for the GOP nomination had $12,705.18 cash on hand. That’s a small amount for a state legislative candidate in a targeted race, let alone a candidate for a statewide office.

Todd Halbur is also seeking the GOP nomination for state auditor. He raised $7,073, of which nearly $5,000 came from the candidate or his relatives. After spending $3,336.54, Halbur’s campaign had $3,736.46 cash on hand.

The eventual nominee will enter the general election campaign at a big financial disadvantage. There is no national GOP group that focuses on state auditor races comparable to the Republican Governors Association or the Republican Attorneys General Association. The best hope for Sand’s opponent would be for the Republican Party of Iowa to direct substantial funds toward this race.

Final note: No other candidate has announced plans to run for state auditor, but a recent federal court ruling gave Iowa independent or third-party candidates until late August to file nominating papers. Libertarian Fred Perryman received about 2.6 percent in the 2018 race for state auditor, and Libertarians may field a candidate this year.

Top photos cropped from images posted on the candidates’ Facebook pages. From left: Democrat Rob Sand, Republican Mary Ann Hanusa, and Republican Todd Halbur.

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