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DES MOINES — Whether an accountant or attorney is better suited to run the state auditor’s office, and interpretation of how state law guides the auditor’s duties are at the heart of one of Iowa’s down-ballot elections.

Mary Mosiman, a Republican, is running for another term as Iowa auditor. She is being challenged by Democrat Rob Sand.

Mosiman is a certified public accountant and just the third state auditor in the past 40 years. David Vaudt and Richard Johnson, both Republicans and also both accountants, previously held the post.

Sand is an attorney whose most recent professional experience came in the state attorney general’s office.

Mosiman asserts Sand could not perform all the state auditor’s duties because he is not an accountant, while Sand says Mosiman is misinterpreting state law and asserts he could, if elected, run the office the same as any previous state auditor.

Both candidates stand by their respective reading of state law, and both have garnered support from other individuals with professional expertise.

An attempt to secure a nonpartisan interpretation of Iowa law was unsuccessful. Some potential experts declined to weigh in by citing a potential conflict of interest.

At the heart of the debate are audits of financial statements for government entities, a primary responsibility of the auditor’s office.

Mosiman says state law dictates only accountants can conduct audits of financial statements. She cites a section of the state’s administrative rules governing public accountants that reads, “Only a certified public accountant may issue a report on financial statements of a person, firm, organization, or governmental unit.”

With an auditor who is an accountant, the auditor’s office is recognized as an official CPA (certified public accountant) firm. That recognition would go away with a non-accountant auditor, Mosiman says.

“Those financial statement audits do need to be conducted by a CPA working in a CPA firm,” Mosiman said. “That’s basically the way the profession has been handled for many years, and it’s part of the Iowa Accountancy Board’s administrative rules.”

Mosiman argues Sand’s election would mean the office would be forced to outsource financial audits to private accountants, which would create an additional cost to the office and, by extension, state taxpayers.

Mosiman also referred to an article, published in the Iowa Society of CPAs newsletter, which says the auditor should be an accountant. The Iowa Society of CPAs’ political arm has donated $2,500 to Mosiman’s campaign since 2014, state campaign finance records show.

“Knowledge of the many governmental regulations and financial reporting standards is necessary to report to the public that an entity’s financial statements and disclosures are presented fairly and free of material misstatement,” the newsletter said. “This needs to come from someone with the right degree of expertise, education and regulatory oversight.”

Sand disagrees with Mosiman’s reading of state law. He says the administrative rules section to which Mosiman refers only applies to private audits, not those performed by the state auditor’s office.

Sand points to the section of Iowa law that spells out the duties of the state auditor. In that section, the law states, “audits or required fiscal year examinations shall be made as determined by the governmental subdivision either by the auditor of state or by certified public accountants, certified in the state of Iowa.”

Sand says because state law calls for audits from the auditor “or” an accountant, there is nothing to prevent him from fulfilling the office’s duties. He points to previous auditors who were not accountants.

“The statutes establishing the office create no legal requirement that the state auditor’s office be a CPA, and there is no consequence if the office is not a CPA firm,” Sand said. “Thus, any person by authority of holding the office can issue audits because they have been so elected.”

To Mosiman’s assertion that a non-accountant auditor would lead to outsourced work and thus higher costs for the office, Sand said any additional costs would come out of the office’s budget and would not add to the state’s financial burden.

Sands’ campaign cited testimonials gathered by three Republican county attorneys who agree with his reading of state law and disagree with Mosiman’s.

“Any argument that a CPA is required to lead the state auditor’s office is wrong. Rob Sand can issue every audit just as all state auditors from all walks of life have done for many, many years,” said Matt Wilber, the county attorney for Pottawattamie County, a Republican and past president of the Iowa Association of County Attorneys.

Sand said he considers the fact he is not an accountant one of his best qualifications for the auditor post. He said his experience will strengthen the office’s role in investigations.

“We are currently paying with our taxpayer dollars the salaries of more than 30 CPAs in that office,” Sand said. “These investigations, by law, are sent to the county attorney and the attorney general’s office. They’re supposed to be ready to be walked into a court of law and stand up to the highest burden of proof. ... There’s no good reason not to always have someone who is a law enforcement professional in those interviews.”

Mosiman maintains the auditor’s office is better served being run by an accountant and said she is campaigning on her leadership, experience and qualifications.

“I’m the only CPA running for state auditor, and the auditor’s office has been a CPA firm for numerous years,” Mosiman said, adding, “I’m the only one (in the race) that’s led an office.”

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