A COVID-19 awareness campaign featuring Gov. Kim Reynolds violated an Iowa law that prohibits using public money on self-promotion, according to a special investigative audit released today by state auditor Rob Sand.
- At least $152,585 of federal coronavirus relief funding was misspent, the audit shows.
- Just minutes after the audit's release, Reynolds' office responded in a statement saying "any competent reading" of the law shows Sand is wrong.
Why it matters: Beyond raising concerns about how state leaders are spending federal pandemic aid, the audit's release further escalates tensions between the Republican governor and Democratic auditor, who's scouting a run in the 2022 gubernatorial race.
Details: November's $500,000 "Step Up, Stop the Spread" campaign included money for paid TV, radio and online advertisements featuring Reynolds, which Sand said violates the state's campaign finance law.
- Reynolds signed that Iowa bill into law back in 2018.
- Violators are subject to a fine up to the amount of money found to be in violation.
Yes, but: Public heath disaster emergencies are exempt from the self-promotion statute under Iowa's emergency management law.
- "Auditor Sand didn't once ask to meet with our team regarding his concern or his investigation," Sara Craig, Reynolds' chief of staff said in today's press release.
Polk County attorney John Sarcone and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation were provided copies of the report.
- Neither office immediately responded to our inquiry.
Flashback: Iowa returned $21 million of federal pandemic money in December following another audit by Sand that accused the governor of misspending on a new human resources and accounting software system.
Between the lines: It's Sand's job to be a watchdog, but his criticisms of the governor have sharpened in recent months. Earlier this week, he said a security fence around Terrace Hill shows "out-of-whack" priorities.
- It appears that Sand, who defeated Republican auditor Mary Mosiman in 2018, is gaming to take on another Iowa GOP incumbent next year.
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