October 22, 2014

Agreement closes books on misspent federal election funds

Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro says his office has reached an agreement to close the books on federal money that was misspent by his predecessor. Federal officials said Governor Chet Culver misspent over two-million dollars in funds from the 2002 Help America Vote Act when Culver was Secretary of State.

Mauro says they were able to work through a process to cut that amount of money down to several hundred thousand dollars. Mauro says they ended up with a “disallowable amount” of approximately $221,000 and they were able to offset that amount with salaries they could have appropriated and were able to bring the total down to zero.

Federal officials say Culver broke several rules in spending the money things such as a program called “Celebrate Voting” that included money for speakers, entertainment, supplies, medallions for honorees, children’s activities and a traveling exhibit that told the story of the struggle for voting rights.

There were also questions about the process which did not use bids for the consulting firm known as the State Public Policy Group, and money spent on radio ads. Mauro says it has taken three years to sort things out so the state would not have to pay money back.

“So the taxpayers are the winners, and I’m glad it is over with,” Mauro says. Mauro did not win a second term, but says polices have been put in place to try and prevent future problems.

Mauro says they put some guidelines in effect to have some type of procurement policy, especially when outsourcing projects.

The Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002 in response to problems with the 2000 election. Iowa received some 30 million dollars from the program.

You can see the entire report on the misspent funds here:  HAVA audit 2010 PDF

Governor Culver’s chief of staff, James Larew, issued this response to the report:

No  federal rules were broken. Competitive bidding was not required for the contracts with SPPG and others. The Attorney General’s office advised that competitive bidding was not required and that advice was conveyed to the Election Assistance Commission.

2) There is no finding that $2.5 million in voting funds were misspent. When documentation was provided to the EAC, most of the initial challenges were withdrawn-leaving only $220,995 (about 7/10th of 1 percent of the program budget) in dispute.

3) There were a number of disagreements in good faith between the Secretary of State’s office and the auditors regarding how funds were spent to implement the HAVA program.

4) Most of the federal rules that were interpreted to evaluate the Iowa HAVA program were not even published by the time that the Iowa HAVA program had been completed-the Secretary of State’s office did much of its work using its best judgment.

5) The remaining disputed amounts were made subject to a resolution under which terms:

a. No admission of wrongdoing or illegality or failure to follow rules was required nor offered.

b. No expenditure of state or federal taxpayer funds will be required;

c. There will be no loss or diminishment of HAVA funds at the Secretary of State’s office, by even one cent; and

d. The Election Assistance Commission has acknowledged the fact that SPPG provided “extensive effort and support” in implementing HAVA in Iowa and that quality work was produced in the course of implementing the HAVA program. We appreciate their role in implementing HAVA in Iowa.

The Iowa HAVA program has been acknowledged as one of the nation’s best programs. As a result of the program, Iowa’s voters are assured of voting on machines that function properly and in accordance with best practices. Iowa’s voting places are accessible to all citizens, even those with disabilities. Iowans have confidence in their voting system and vote in record numbers.