by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – We know the lawmakers you elect make the decisions on how much to tax us and where to spend the money. We know the Governor is in charge of setting state policies and administering the government but who watches them and their subordinates when that money is being spent?
The State Auditor.
In our continuing series of in-depth interviews with statewide office holders, Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich (R) explains is approach to the office and comments on some of the recent work his office has done.
The Auditor’s role is to investigate government. That can be at the local, such as a municipal government, a local utility or school district, or at the statewide level where entire departments are reviewed.
That includes looking at individual office holders and the access to public money they have. Schweich says following up on suspected embezzlement is a high priority of his staff.
“…all of our auditors, we have over 100 people across the state, they look for public officials who are stealing and we have indicators of fraud. Since I’ve been Auditor, we’ve now found over twenty public officials stealing money.
“Nine have already been charged with a crime. The rest have all lost their jobs or are under investigation.”
Schweich, who is in his first term as Auditor, believes the impact of the investigations has a ripple effect into other areas of government.
“I think people can see now, and it will be more evident when I start advertising for reelection, when I point out all the embezzlers and where we found them. People are on notice now that if you steal money, you’re not going to get away with it.
“And that’s going to improve the quality of government across the state, even in entities we’re not auditing…”
When alleged criminal activity is found, the Auditor’s office then hands the case off to a prosecutor either at the local level or to the state Attorney General.
A recent series of audits looked at several local court systems. The findings in some cases is that local officials aren’t handling money or procedures well. The findings of those audits are listed on the Auditor’s website (linked below).
Several cases of theft were found.
“It’s amazing to me that people will steal from right under the nose of the judge and the prosecutor, because they handle a lot of cash in those courts. And where there’s cash, there’s an opportunity for theft.”
Schweich says, in some cases, there was no wrongdoing but the reports found ways for the offices to be more efficient and use better administrative practices.
It’s a busy office with some of the audits mandated by state law. In other cases, citizens request audits by directly contacting the Auditor’s office or through a petition process.
To Schweich, the petitions demand quick action.
“If citizens take the time to go through the effort to ask me to do an audit, we put those, actually, at the top of the queue. We have a long list of audits that we’re going to do. You take the time to petition me, it’s going right up to the top and we do it immediately.”
The Auditor’s website is typically updated a few times a week with results of new audits.
On the web:
Missouri State Auditor’s Office: http://www.auditor.mo.gov/
Show Me Institute (sponsor of this week’s commentary): www.ShowMeInstitute.org