(Story by decorahnews.com's Ben Gardner):
In preparation for my interview with Iowa's Auditor Rob Sand, I finally got around to reading the riveting "New York Times Magazine" article entitled "The Man Who Cracked the Lottery." The article was published in May 2018 and details Sand's prosecution—while in the Iowa Attorney General's Office—of an employee at a multi-state lottery organization in Iowa who fixed a lottery scheme for nearly $25 million.
At the beginning of our interview, I tell the 36 year-old Democratic Auditor and Decorah-native the magazine article depicts him like a John Grisham character: a baby-faced, liberal prosecutor, tackling wrongdoing and corruption.
"Sometimes it felt like a Grisham novel," Sand admits.
"Was it as riveting as it reads in the article," I asked.
"Every case has its ups and downs," Sand said. "There's always a thrill in discovering something exciting. And part of that excitement is wading through all the unexciting stuff, until you find something new."
During his campaign for state auditor in 2018, Sand campaigned as a dogged prosecutor with a history of taking on both Republicans and Democrats during his tenure (2011-2017) as a prosecutor in the Iowa Attorney General's Office.
During his campaign, Sand criticized then state auditor Mary Mosiman for failing to act as the "taxpayers' watchdog." He claimed Mosiman failed to perform all the necessary duties of Auditor, including streamlining efficiencies in each audit, comprehensive nonpartisan financial oversight, and rigorously pursuing public corruption investigations.
After defeating Mosiman in November 2018, Sand became one of only two Democratic Iowa Auditors in the last 75 years. He said his priority in office would be enforcing nonpartisan government accountability.
The state auditor is responsible for performing annual financial audits of every department of the Government of Iowa, including state political subdivisions like counties, cities, and school districts. It also audits state agencies and investigates financial fraud. In addition to making a complete audit of each department in the state government, the Auditor is also responsible for providing guidelines for CPA firms performing individual audits.
Sand has embraced the "taxpayer's watchdog" metaphor: it's in the first sentence of the mission found on the Auditor's official government website. And "watchdog" serves as an appropriate metaphor for Sand's approach to his job.
During his campaign, Sand pledged to prioritize nonpartisan government oversight. However, in state government, the Democratic Auditor of State finds himself largely surrounded by Republicans. I asked Sand how he is maintaining his campaign promise of nonpartisan oversight. Sand's answer was characteristically concise: "It's important to put the public ahead of the party."
Nevertheless, with the approaching Iowa Caucus in January, party politics will likely continue to pester Sand.
After flipping the state auditor seat from red to blue in 2018, Sand has become one of Iowa's most influential elected Democrats. His endorsement, during Iowa caucus season, will be highly anticipated, as well as highly desirable for candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination. His endorsement will also be coveted by local, regional, and state Democrats hoping to tap into Sand's progressive appeal and turn the state legislature blue in 2020.
When asked during our interview what he was looking for in a Democratic presidential nominee, Sand preferred not to comment, saying only: "It's a long way to go until the caucus, and it doesn't makes sense for me to make an endorsement when people are still routinely dropping out of the race."
Sand recently completed a series of town halls in Iowa outlining his proposal to streamline efficiencies and cut costs in state, local, and county government. "The Auditor's Office," Sand said in interview, "has had the ability to make efficiency recommendations. In the past, this hasn't been completed." With budgets becoming increasingly tight state-wide, Sand believes it's a priority of the state auditor to cut costs.
For more information on the duties of the Iowa Auditor of State, visit https://www.auditor.iowa.gov/.