- Transcript (RTF)
We continue this evening with our series looking at the general election of 2010 and discussing the policy and politics of those candidates whose names will appear on the November 2 ballot. Tonight we focus on two offices, that of Treasurer of Iowa and the Auditor of Iowa, two increasingly important offices in today's stressed financial times.
Yeager: Let’s meet the candidates now. The incumbent Treasurer of Iowa is Michael Fitzgerald, a democrat from Waukee. His major-party challenger is David Jamison, who is a republican from Ames. Moving to the office of Auditor of Iowa, the republican incumbent of Iowa is David Vaudt of West Des Moines, and his major-party challenger is Jon Murphy, a democrat from Des Moines. Gentlemen, thank you and glad to have you here on this program. Let’s first start -- tell us the why you, Mr. Fitzgerald. Why should you keep your job?
Fitzgerald: Thank you very much. I’m asking Iowans to vote for me for another term as state treasurer because I’ve been a financial leader for them. A financial professional is how I look at the treasurer's office and how can it serve Iowans. The first way we serve Iowans is we've kept the money safe. Not only that, in the last four years as treasurer, I’ve earned over $300 million in interest for the citizens of Iowa. That keeps those taxes down. But also, I’ve worked to keep our credit rating high. I was the first state official to call for gap accounting, generally accepted accounting principles, but advocating for a balanced budget, advocating for reserves to be held for the state. And we have now received a triple a rating for the state of Iowa. I’m very proud of that and I’ll continue to work to keep that. But I’ve also taken this financial professionalism to help Iowans. We’ve started the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt, where we returned $125 million to 300,000 Iowans. We’ve started college savings Iowa, where now 100,000 Iowa students have college savings accounts. It’s going to help them go to college. We’re real proud of that program. It’s one of the best in the United States. And we're doing other things like the women and money conference. We’ve just had our fourth women and money conference, helping Iowa women. We hope to expand that around the state, and we do other things like the financial football program. I’m working with the NFL and Visa to provide financial information to high school kids to help them learn financial literacy. That’s important in our state and that's what I want to do in the next four years, help Iowans and protect Iowans' money.
Yeager: Mr. Jamison, why should people pick you on November 2?
Jamison: Thank you, Paul. My name is Dave Jamison. I’m the county treasurer in Story County, and I decided to run for state treasurer because I care about Iowa and I’m concerned about the direction of our state. State government can't continue to spend more than it brings in. Iowans know that. They can't do that in their homes or their businesses, and they expect better from their state leaders. I bring sixteen years experience to the public finance -- as a public finance officer with a record of success in fighting government expansion of red tape. The Story County treasurer's office had 11 full-time employees when I took office in 1995, and when I leave office this December, we'll have 11 full-time employees. So increasing transparency and access and accountability and service in the government office doesn't require growth of the government. My plan for state treasurer is straight forward: put Iowa first. Too often our state officials forget they work for the citizens and taxpayers of Iowa. I have about -- I’ve put about 45,000 miles on my car, traveled to all 99 counties because I believe that Iowans deserve a chance to hear and see their elected officials. It’s time to put -- it's time to reconnect the state treasurer's office with the citizens and local governments of Iowa. While I focus on Iowans, my opponent, after 28 years, has clearly forgotten his roots and responsibilities. $500 million of Iowa’s money ended up in the hands of a couple crooks for one reason; he failed to do his job. A simple Google search would have revealed that west ridge capital management was run by a couple of crooks. While he should be investing in Iowa and working for Iowans, he uses the bank of New York as a depository and receives 70 percent of his political contributions from outside Iowa. His campaign disclosure report reveals that he's part of the culver culture of corruption by accepting thousands of dollars from the very bank he does business with. That’s pay to play and that's not Iowa. Iowa is in tough shape but I think Iowans are tough people and I’m optimistic we can get back on the right track and we can create a brighter future for our kids and grandkids. As Iowans we must hold our elected officials accountable. It’s time to remove those who have failed us. This is the year for strong, new leadership in the state capitol. And on November 2, with Iowans' help and their support, I’d like to get busy and put Iowa first again.
Yeager: Mr. Fitzgerald, I’ll let you respond to a couple of those claims made to you and, me. Jamison, if something comes back, you can get a chance to go that way. Anything you'd like to respond with?
Fitzgerald: Oh, absolutely. I realize that in a campaign, you've got to reach for a lot of things and try to throw mud at the wall and hope something sticks, and he's thrown a lot of mud at the wall just in the last speech. But first let me bring out IPERS. The treasurer does not invest IPERS. IPERS, which is a great pension system for the state of Iowa, has its own department. The department director is Donna Mueller. It’s a hundred-person staff almost. They have six certificated financial analysts. The treasurer is a member of the board, one of eleven; seven voting members, but it's half republican, half democrat, half women, half men. And the job of the board is to set up a professional process to hire investment managers, and they've done that. We have a national consulting firm that helps the board advise and set up minimum requirements, goes through an RFP process. They make recommendations to the board, and we hire managers. We have over 30 managers. We invest money all over the world. This manager committed fraud. They were audited every year by Deloitte & Touche, a national auditing firm. But that happens. I can't guarantee as treasurer, and neither can he, that that can't happen. Like you buying stocks, you can't guarantee every stock is going to go up. If you want to judge IPERS, look at the results. The last ten years IPERS has been in the top 25 percent of all pension funds in their returns. That makes us really the best pension fund in the country. It’s solid. And if you're in IPERS, you've got a good system.
Yeager: Mr. Jamison, does that answer any of your claims?
Jamison: No. I think clearly the law is very clear. It’s clear on the treasurer's website, there's one custodian. There’s one person that's ultimately accountable for the IPERS fund and making sure that due diligence got done. The fundamental question is who is the custodian, did due diligence get done. The custodian is the treasurer. Due diligence was not done.
Yeager: Okay. Mr. Vaudt, why should people go back to the polls on November 2 and check your name?
Vaudt: Thank you, Paul. My name is Dave Vaudt, and I’m a life-long resident of Iowa. I actually graduated from Luverne High School in north central Iowa, and then I attended Upper Iowa University in northeast Iowa. Upon graduation, I moved to the Des Moines area and have been a resident here since. I think it's very important that people understand I am a certificated public accountant, a CPA. And why is that important? Because the Iowa state auditor's office is actually a licensed CPA firm, and under Iowa law only a CPA can lead a licensed CPA firm. In addition, a state auditor's office is responsible for everything that takes place from an auditing perspective, and the only one that can conduct an audit is a licensed CPA. So it's so important that we make sure we have a licensed CPA serving the state. I’ve traveled the state extensively over the last several years to inform and educate Iowans about our finances in a clear and understandable way. And I will tell you that last year I made over 170 presentations across the state, and my presentations have enabled thousands of Iowans to more actively engage with their elected officials about the state's finances. As your taxpayers' watchdog, I’ve been working hard for all Iowans. I have continually reminded our elected officials there's no such thing as government money, there's only your money, taxpayer money. I also remind all of our elected officials that this is a place where there isn't republican numbers, there isn't democrat numbers, there are only Iowa numbers, and we need to face reality with those. So I’ve been working hard for Iowans. I will continue to do that. What I look forward to is I ask for your support, Iowans, as the only CPA running for state auditor.
Yeager: All right. Mr. Murphy, why should people go on November 2 and check your name?
Murphy: Well, first of all, Paul, thank you for having me here today and thank you for giving these candidates an opportunity to let Iowans know about these important choices they have for these offices coming up on November 2. I’m running for state auditor for one simple reason. It’s because I love the state of Iowa. I had the opportunity this morning, as a matter of fact, to participate in one of Iowa’s great events, in the Des Moines marathon. We had over 8,000 people participate, and the spirit of Iowa is just so fantastic, and the enthusiasm people have for this state and for things that we care about like hard work and dedication really showed this morning. So that was a great event to participate, not only here in des Moines but for those across Iowa. I’m running for state auditor because I want to continue my service to this state that I’ve done for over the past twelve years. Currently I’m on a leave of absence from my job as the director of the Iowa office for state and federal relations. I was appointed that job in 2007 and was unanimously confirmed by the state senate. Prior to that I was the director of federal relations for Iowa State University from 2001 to 2007, and prior to that I was a policy adviser in the United States Congress working on agriculture and energy issues. And I want to take these -- experience I’ve developed from these positions and work with the people of Iowa to protect their money. I want to be the advocate and the implementer of several different things. I want to bring more transparency to the state taxpayers' dollars. Right now there is no central place in the state of Iowa where an Iowan can go and learn how their dollars are being spent. We have pockets transparency but we don't have a central place. It’s going to take leadership to bring that kind of transparency to taxpayers' dollars. I want to be that leader. My opponent says that transparency is not his responsibility. I want to increase the number of performance audits that are being done by the state auditor's office. If you go to the state auditor's office Web site right now, of the 7,200 audit reports that are currently listed, only 33 are performance audits. That’s .004 percent that are actually performance audits. This is despite the fact that my opponent in 2006 decided that he would give more emphasis on performance audits. Clearly it hasn't been a priority. And finally, I want to increase the professionalism in that office. Iowans -- common sense Iowans know that the first thing you do when you're in any position, whether it be the state auditor or any job throughout the state, is you get the job done. my opponent did not get the job done of fully auditing all state -- departments of state government and, as a result, has put our tax dollars at risk and might cost taxpayers millions of dollars more by putting our excellent triple a bond rating at risk.
Yeager: All right, Mr. Vaudt, you get a chance to respond to those.
Vaudt: Let me start with a complete audit of the state of Iowa set of books. We completed a complete audit of the state books in accordance with Iowa law and also professional auditing standards. And I think it's a little disingenuous for someone to act surprised. We've advance warned the legislature, all 150 elected representatives and senators and my opponent's boss, the governor, that a severe cut of 34 percent to our appropriation would probably lead to a qualified opinion. We completed a complete audit of the books, which we're required to do under Iowa law, but it doesn't require that you have to issue an unqualified opinion. When it comes to transparency, my opponent clearly doesn't understand the role of the auditor. When he was working as the federal transparency person, there was a reason the federal government assigned that responsibility to the administration, and that's because the administration is responsible for the financial activity and management of that. Auditors cannot audit the information they prepare, so we have to stay away from those things and make sure that we're truly independent from that process.
Yeager: Does he answer your claims at all?
Murphy: No, he doesn't. And first of all, relating to the -- to not doing a full and complete audit on the state -- departments of state government, frankly my opponent had the opportunity to ask for supplemental funds so he could do the job, and he failed to do that. So he's trying to play politics with this particular issue. He played political chicken with the taxpayer dollars, and he lost. And as a result, Iowa taxpayers might be on the hook for millions of dollars in additional interest payments on our bond rating, and I think that's just wrong to play politics with something so important. The state auditor's job is to protect the taxpayers' money, not put it at risk. In relation to transparency, the issue of transparency needs leadership. And I understand completely that it's going to be a collaborative effort, but I want to lead that effort. I want to work with the Department of Administrative Services, I want to work with the state of county enterprise to make sure that we are providing Iowans with the information about how their tax dollars are being spent. That’s just common sense.
Yeager: The claim of defending the politicking of this office is not just his question, but that's been a question I had for you as well. If there is an appearance that there is some politics in that, in maybe some of the comments you make, how do you defend those?
Vaudt: I think what you have to look at is -- if you look at my opponent, he's obviously a lobbyist that looks at things differently. I’m a CPA. I have professional auditing standards to follow, and just because I’m advocating for good fiscal policy and good fiscal practices does not mean I’m not independent. However, my opponent would have some real problems because he's actually been involved with the federal dollars that the state auditor's office would be responsible for auditing. And once again, you can't audit your own work. So he would create a real independence problem for the state auditor's office. Also, when it comes to transparency, I will tell you that my transparency is there. We’re fully transparent with every governmental audit that is issued by my office or by a private CPA firm. It’s on our web site 24/7. Audit reports are the product of my work, and it's all out there fully available.
Yeager: Something, if you are elected to this job, is oversight of several counties, cities, small municipalities that don't have the money to oversee some of these things. How do you improve the oversight of those municipalities across the state and what your office would do?
Murphy: Could you --
Yeager: Well, I can think of -- I’ve known several reports that have come from Mr. Vaudt's office where it's a small town and that's your job to oversee that. How do you improve those audits if there is room for improvement?
Murphy: Well, what I think the state auditor's office can do is help these local governments learn more about better internal controls and processing money at the local level so they don't run into the problems that are -- become subject of these audits. A lot of times these smaller communities, they get into trouble because they have just one person that's handling the money, and that's where the problem comes in. There are problems when there are people embezzling money, but a lot of the problems actually come from not understanding proper financial procedure. So I think what the state auditor's office can do is do more training at the local level and reach out and have more of a collaborative effort with those in the local governments.
Yeager: I’ve focused on one to the other. I don't want to leave you guys out of this. Let’s talk about deregulation and oversight. Where’s your role -- Mr. Fitzgerald, where would you see your role in deregulation in oversight if there is a claim or a call for that in your office? Where do you think the treasurer should be involved with deregulation?
Fitzgerald: Well, I don't specifically know what you're talking about on deregulation. There’s a lot of deregulation.
Yeager: Should there be -- should there be involvement from the treasurer's office on deregulation of maybe it's a large corporation in the state that's had issues, federally, local. Is that a role for your office, yes or no, I guess --
Fitzgerald: Well, it's really not a role for the treasurer's office. We do get concerned, you know, there's regulations and rules that corporations in Iowa have to follow. It’s like whether they have to report unclaimed property that's owed to the treasurer's office. I know those rules and regulations change from time to time. We’re very involved with that. We’re also very involved with regulations that account for public funds. All public treasurers in the state of Iowa, the safety of the funds have been put into banks, is really overseen by the state treasurer's office. And I work with the Iowa bankers association to make sure that anytime a public treasurer -- and when I talk public treasurer, I don't mean the public, I mean like a school board treasurer or a county treasurer, a city treasurer. When they put money in a bank and it goes over the FDIC limits, it's protected and safe. And I can tell you as state treasurer that any public treasurer that puts money in a bank in Iowa, it is fully protected and no public treasurer has ever lost money in an Iowa bank in Iowa. And that's something we take seriously. So there are particular issues and I hope that's what you're getting it. I’ll tell you I must also say that being treasurer -- it's very important to be accountable as state treasurer and it's a public trust and the public needs to have trust in what you're doing. I want to point out that, you know, my opponent brought out -- had a serious problem with asking for property taxes this last fall. Made a huge mistake. 17,000 people in Story County were given wrong property tax asking information. When the error was pointed out to him, he refused to respond, even to take any responsibility, even to do a press release to point out to the property taxpayers, at the request of city officials that were getting all kinds of questions and concerns -- they were blaming them. They asked him to take responsibility, and he refused to do it. So is -- that's a part of public trust and we're regulating, working with businesses, working with banks. That has to be established and maintained. We’ve done that. It raises questions about what's been going on in Story County.
Yeager: You get a chance to respond to that.
Jamison: Other than he's not accurate at all --
Yeager: Explain your side then.
Jamison: The property tax statements that went out, we did discover that the IT, the programming, did create a minimal problem with the levy rate from a prior year comparison. The tax statements in Iowa have current year taxes and then they have, for educational purposes, so the taxpayers can see what went on the prior year, they have prior year levy rate. And in the process of catching an error in my office, the IT department reprogrammed and the secondary error was not caught. So the first -- about 17,000 statements in Story County, there was the prior year's levy rate wasn't accurate. It had absolutely nothing to do with anything else on the tax statement. And my response to the public officials that asked about it was I gave them a full disclosure of exactly my inquiry and how it happened, determining whether it was anything that was impacting the current taxes that we were asking for, which it didn't, my determination whether it could happen again or was it actually fixed going forward, and it was. And what I suggested to them is that if they wanted more from my office, they should let me know. We had absolutely one e-mail on the subject. No other phone calls and no other contacts from the city officials.
Yeager: Mr. Jamison, what would you do on your first day if you were elected? What would you see as a job that you would need to do?
Jamison: I think as a chief finance officer of the state of Iowa, I think I would begin the advocation process for the transparency where you can see the spending records on line. I think every Iowan has every right to know and see where their money is going. I think that makes them better informed. When they're better informed, then they can hold their elected officials more accountable. Beyond that, I just think that the chief finance officer has to be someone that realizes public office is a public trust and that you have to be accountable. That’s why my opponent says he's accountable, yet he tries to dismiss and defuse that he is the custodian of $500 million that ended up in the hands of crooks. I don't think that's being accountable.
Yeager: So what would you do? You’d be keeping the job or what would you do?
Fitzgerald: Let me say this, you don't have to believe me. I’m asking people look at the front page of the Ames Tribune, September 16, where Mr. Jamison talked about it. First of all, where he wants transparency and put everything out on the computer, he described his as a jumbled up mess. But the city officials from Ames also said that we receive a lot of money from the public and we need to trust what they're doing, certainly questioning what he was doing in the story county treasurer's office.
Yeager: Okay. I’m fine with that and you can go back and forth. But what would you do on your first day back with reelection if you were reelected.
Fitzgerald: Well, on the first day back, what we're going to do in the treasurer's office is continue to develop some of the programs that we have. You know, we'll start planning our fifth Iowa women and money conference and hopefully take that around the state. We’ll expand the great Iowa treasure hunt. We’re trying to get millions of dollars back from the federal government in unclaimed savings bonds, and we know $100 million can be brought back to Iowans. We want to return that to Iowans. And we also want to continue to grow the college savings Iowa accounts. They’ve just been terrific. Big success for Iowa families.
Yeager: Continue programs that you've already done. Mr. Murphy, what would you do, if you were elected, on the first day?
Murphy: Well, I would get together with the staff at the state auditor's office, and I would let them know that not getting the job done is unacceptable going forward. We focus on getting priorities of this state done, which is protecting the taxpayer dollars, not putting them as risk. No excuses, no politics, just getting the job done. And I think that's something that dearly needs to happen on the first day, and then carrying it forward with leadership. and then I would say going forward from there, we would collaborate with those other departments of state government and create a transparency model so that we could show Iowans where their tax dollars are going so we can empower them with information and truly bring them into the fold and let them be their own taxpayers' watchdog. Empowering people with information is probably the best thing the taxpayers' watchdog can do. So those are just two things that I would do immediately.
Yeager: me. Vaudt, what would you do? Anything different if you were reelected?
Vaudt: I would continue to serve the taxpayers well as we've done in the past. Performing audit services takes good professional judgment. My opponent obviously has absolutely no background or education in auditing standards so, regretfully, he wouldn't know when he reached his destination. It’s so important to have a leader that truly understands the auditing process, that's involved in the auditing process, which I am each and every day. And that's what taxpayers would expect, that their actual state auditor has the experience and the ability and the professional judgment to make the calls that need to be made at the top. That’s what true leadership is all about, not lobbying for it.
Yeager: Mr. Fitzgerald, your office -- Mr. Vaudt, your office is down on the ticket, but it's just as important. Tell people why it's important to study this race and vote and know what's going on in this race on November 2.
Fitzgerald: Well, the statewide offices, even though they're not well known, they are important. The job we do is very important. We’re an independent financial voice for the state of Iowa, and we add a lot to those conversations. David and I have both been on important programs like Vision Iowa, bring credibility to those programs, work a lot with the legislature and the governor. So they are important. They don't get the headlines but they are important and people should take them seriously.
Yeager: Okay. Mr. Vaudt and Mr. Murphy, you both get about 30 seconds to answer that question. I’ll start with you.
Murphy: Well, the first -- can you repeat --
Yeager: Why do people need to study this race and know what's going on and why it's important?
Murphy: Well, it's important. We can't just gloss over the facts and say a credential is the reason why they should be elected. A CPA who doesn't get the job done is just a person not getting the job done.
Yeager: Mr. Vaudt?
Vaudt: I would point out over the last several years I’ve been pointing out the poor fiscal practices and warned what would happen, and that's exactly what happened. And that's because I have the professional experience and the education to actually do the job as state auditor.
Yeager: Mr. Jamison, I can't believe I didn't let you answer that one before I went to the other side. So what would you -- why is it important to vote on this issue.
Jamison: I mean clearly $500 million, the largest deficit in Iowa’s history happened because the state treasurer didn't do his job. I think that's clearly important. IPERS, as a defined benefit program, means that all the taxpayers in Iowa have got to make that up if it's not there.
Yeager: All right. I’ll ask you all this question, it's an up or down. Should there be term limits for your office?
Yeager: Term limits for your office?
Yeager: Term limits for your office?
Yeager: Term limits for this job?
Yeager: All right. Thank you very much. That’s Jon Murphy from Des Moines. David Vaudt is the current auditor. Dave Jamison is from Ames, and Mike Fitzgerald is from Waukee. Gentlemen, thank you so very much for giving us your insight on this very important election. We are out of time. I told you it would fly by. This is our fourth evening of reviewing the campaigns by 2010. I do want to thank our participants, as I just did, for Treasurer of Iowa. They’re also here talking about the Auditor of Iowa. We wish you all well on your campaign on November 2. We will continue tomorrow evening with a perspective from two high-profile campaigns for statewide office, that of Iowa Attorney General and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Incumbent Secretary of Ag is Bill Northey and the challenger is Francis Thicke. They’ll both join us, as will incumbent Attorney General Tom Miller and challenger Brenna Findley. Each will share views on their issues heading into the November 2 voting booth. The airtime for that program is 6:30. Another reminder -- at 8 p.m. this evening Governor Chet Culver and Terry Branstad will be involved in their third and final gubernatorial debate before the upcoming election. The rebroadcast begins in one hour, and I hope that you'll be joining us. My name is Paul Yeager. Thank you so very much for joining us here on statewide Iowa Public Television.