Governor Chet Culver says the state will continue to challenge a federal commission’s demand that the state repay $576,000 in “Help America Vote Act” funding. The federal money was forwarded to Iowa in 2002 when Culver was Iowa’s secretary of state, overseeing the conduct of elections in Iowa and making the decisions about how that federal money was to be spent.
“We’re now talking about less than two percent of the overall funds. At one point they had questions about more than $2.5 million,” Culver says. “Working cooperatively, we’ve now gotten that number down to about $500,000 and we’re confident at the end of the day all of these questions will be answered.”
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission audited the way all states spent money for upgrading voting procedures after the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election and those infamous “hanging chads” in Florida’s ballot recount. The commission has questioned Culver’s decision to spend “Help America Vote Act” money on speakers fees, children’s activities, a big “gala” to celebrate voting rights and a traveling exhibit about the history of voting. Culver says he’s proud of what he did as secretary of state.
“We feel very good about the investments we made related to election reform,” Culver says. “The Election Assistance Commission said that our plan, when submitted, was one of the very best in America and, again, these are questions that are fair given the fact that $4 billion in federal money was given to the states and territories.”
According to Culver, the state will “absolute not” be repaying the $576,000 now, but will continue to “work at a staff level” to try to get the commission to reverse its demand. Culver says the state has ’til December 10, 2010, to resolve the issue and he says the rules for using the money weren’t clear.
“For example the first thing I did in 2002, unlike almost any state in the country, we got rid of the old lever voting machines. I didn’t want people to have to vote on those,” Culver says. “So in some cases, and this was perfectly permissible, we moved before the Election Assistance Commission had adopted formal rules and that’s not our problem. It’s their problem.”
A spokesman for Terry Branstad, Culver’s Republican opponent, says the audit raises “serious questions” about Culver’s time as secretary of state and shows Culver has engaged in an “ongoing pattern of reckless and irresponsible management of the state’s finances.” Culver says Branstad’s trying to “exploit” a “few questions” from the Election Assistance Commission for their own political gain.
“There’s nothing reckless. There’s nothing irresponsible and, you know, Terry Branstad would know reckless and irresponsible. He mismanaged our books. He kept two sets of books for 10 years as governor,” Culver says. “He is in no position to tell anyone how to manage a budget. According to the (former) Republican Auditor Dick Johnson, he ‘cooked the books.'”
Culver made his comments this morning during an interview just before he delivered a speech in Des Moines. To read the Election Assistance Commission audit, click on this link.