Auditor: Iowa governor misused $21 million in COVID-19 relief funds

Governor Kim Reynolds erred in directing that $21 million in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover the cost of a software system purchased before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to State Auditor Rob Sand.

Sand announced on October 19 that he and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Inspector General “have advised Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds that her decision to use millions of CARES Act dollars to help implement a new software system for state government was not an allowable use of the funds.” The Treasury Department and governor’s office did not respond to requests for confirmation and comment.

Sand also described as “questionable” the use of CARES Act funds to pay the governor’s permanent staff. Bleeding Heartland was first to report last month that Reynolds directed $448,449 in COVID-19 relief funds to pay a portion of salaries and benefits for 21 of her staffers from mid-March through June 2020. Sand warned that a federal audit may eventually determine that the payments did not meet requirements, so reallocating the funds to purposes clearly allowed under the CARES Act would be less risky for taxpayers.

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Auditor, AG warn Iowans about improper election conduct

State Auditor Rob Sand and Attorney General Tom Miller reminded Iowans on September 30 about state laws prohibiting the use of public property to promote candidates and attempts to intimidate or threaten voters.

Sand’s advisory was a response to an incident in the western Iowa town of Ute (Monona County). Miller’s comments did not refer to any specific event but appeared relevant to comments President Donald Trump made during the September 29 televised debate.

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Corrections department belatedly shows concern for following Iowa law

The Iowa Board of Corrections violated state law in 2019 by failing to send Governor Kim Reynolds a list of individuals qualified to serve as director of the Department of Corrections, a state audit confirmed on September 21.

Department officials assured auditors they would share the findings with the Board of Corrections and advise members of their duties under state law. Spokesperson Cord Overton told Bleeding Heartland on September 22 the department had sent board members a copy of the findings and the relevant code section.

He didn’t explain why the department failed to ensure that the board complied with the statute last year, when Marty Ryan raised concerns with the acting director.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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Why did these House Republicans reject an easy win for Iowa taxpayers?

State Auditor Rob Sand had “great news” to share with members of the Iowa House and Senate Appropriations Committees in May. Federal officials had agreed not to demand repayment for alleged overbilling, provided that Iowa changed its billing practices for future audits. The savings to the state would amount to tens of thousands of dollars for each fiscal year.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through a public records request confirm that key Reynolds administration officials were on board with the reform plan, and Iowa Senate appropriators took it up in June as the legislature was completing its work.

The records also show that State Representatives Gary Mohr and John Landon refused to move the fix through the Iowa House.

What they don’t explain is why.

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What Kanye West's candidacy says about Iowa's process and Iowa Republicans

When Iowans begin voting on October 5, they will see nine tickets for president and vice president at the top of the ballot.

The most controversial campaign may be that of Kanye West, widely seen as a stalking horse for President Donald Trump and a gravy train for Republican campaign consultants. He has been knocked off the ballot in some states but survived two objections to his candidacy in Iowa last week.

West’s inclusion reflects well on Iowa’s ballot access policies but poorly on the Republican operatives who got his name in front of voters.

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