Todd Halbur and Rob Sand

Iowa Press | Episode
Oct 21, 2022 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, challenger Todd Halbur (R - Des Moines) and incumbent state auditor Rob Sand (D - Des Moines) discuss their priorities and the important issues related to the State Auditor's office.

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for The Gazette and Katarina Sostaric, state government reporter for Iowa Public Radio.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.



The State Auditor is to be the taxpayer's watchdog analyzing the financial operations of state and local governments and schools. We'll question the candidates running for that office on this edition of Iowa Press. 


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at


For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, October 21st edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.  


Henderson: Our guests on this edition of Iowa Press are the two candidates listed on the November ballot running for State Auditor. Rob Sand is a democrat. He is an attorney. He worked for the Iowa Attorney General's Office as a prosecutor of public corruption cases. He was elected State Auditor in 2018. Todd Halbur is the republican. He has experience in banking and finance. He owns a small school supply business and he is a licensed real estate agent. Gentlemen, welcome to Iowa Press. 

Halbur: Thank you. 

Sand: Thanks. 

Henderson: Joining the conversation are Katarina Sostaric of Iowa Public Radio and Erin Murphy of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids. 

Murphy: Gentlemen, let's start for the folks at home who may not be as familiar with this state office as others. Rob Sand, we'll start with you. What is the State Auditor? What does the office do? What has your office been doing the past four years? 

Sand: Sure. Pretty straight forward. You can look at the website and you'll see a seal that has a dog in front of a treasure chest with the key under its paws. The office is the taxpayer's watchdog. So we don't audit you as a taxpayer, we look at the spending of tax dollars, whether or not the state is spending them appropriately, we audit every state agency every year and then we might audit counties, cities and school districts if they choose to have us audit them. In addition to that, we do public corruption investigations, which is how I came to know the office in my previous role as a chief public corruption prosecutor in Iowa. And then we also now have a government efficiency program called PIE that helps cities, counties and school districts save taxpayer dollars. 

Murphy: Todd Halbur, do you have a similar view of what the office does or should do? And is there anything that your office would do differently? 

Halbur: Yeah, I think from a high level perspective the state auditor's role is the taxpayer watchdog as Rob had pointed out. But the government does not have any money, it just has all of our money, it collects the money and spends the money. And the auditor's role is to make sure that it is properly collected and properly spent. And I would view it kind of like the check engine light on your car, it is the check engine light of state government. Sometimes you get some notifications, sometimes you get the red engine light on there and the state auditor's role is to make sure that all agencies, the larger state agencies, cities and counties and the school districts, are not only collecting it properly but spending it properly according to the code of law. And you audit against the financial audits and then if you need to the special investigations obviously you have to go into those as well. 

Sostaric: Todd Halbur, you recently won $1 million in a lawsuit against the state. For viewers who may not be familiar with the case, why did you sue the state and the Reynolds administration? 

Halbur: Well, if you look at the actual court document I sued the Alcoholic Beverages Division and its administrator Stephen Larson. I did not sue Governor Reynolds, even though Stephen Larson is an appointee of Governor Reynolds. So I want to make sure that people understand that first. Why I sued that agency was that I was a taxpayer watchdog for the citizens of Iowa in that agency when I uncovered the illegal excess profits that they were collecting on the liquor charges of over $8.2 million. And when I disclosed that information I ultimately paid that price and they fired me wrongfully. And so I did file the wrongful termination. Two weeks ago the jury saw what I saw as well as standing up for the taxpayers and I won that lawsuit. 

Henderson: And for the benefit of viewers, your title, you were a state employee and you were employed by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, which is the liquor wholesaler for the entire state of Iowa. What was your job title? 

Halbur: I was the CFO, so I had the capabilities, not the capabilities, but the charge of monitoring the state's alcohol finances for that agency and also to make sure that we were properly marking up the markup according to the code of law, which is in Chapter 123 of the Alcoholic Beverages Division. 

Sostaric: And Rob Sand, while this happened before you were in office as the Auditor, this allegation that the state was improperly collecting too much money from alcohol retailers, is this something that your office thinks needs to be investigated or looked into more? 

Sand: It's something that we did do additional procedures on. Again, this was under my predecessor, State Auditor Mary Mosiman. I know that the systems have been changed. I think they had been changed at the time that we did those procedures. So our work, our office then did enough to feel reassured that it wasn't happening any further, which I think is my understanding was the evidence that came in at trial as well, the issue was addressed post-fact, after the fact. If we were aware of anything that we thought continuing, if anyone identified any problems that they thought was suggesting that it was continuing to happen we certainly would dig in. But from the work that the office did in 2018 before I joined it looks like the issue had been addressed. 

Sostaric: And you've said in the context of sexual harassment lawsuits against the state that the perpetrator should be on the hook for that money, not the state itself. Do you think the state should be on the hook in this case? Obviously it's not sexual harassment, but do you think that philosophy should extend to other things like this? 

Sand: It should extend to other things beyond sexual harassment, yes. Now, what I want the state to do is use a law that is on the books but what that law requires is, so in Mr. Halbur's case, congrats again on the verdict, he has got to prove his case by just 50% plus one of the evidence, a preponderance. The law right now in order to have people, whether it is Mr. Larson or someone else, held personally accountable for those damages would require evidence of willful and wanton misconduct. In a case like this I think typically it would not meet that legal standard. Willful and wanton is typically somebody doing something and doing it repeatedly and they know this is a terrible thing to do and they keep doing it, which is why it oftentimes comes up in the context of sexual harassment. We should start doing that. We should start using that law. Whether or not it is met in this particular case, I don't know that I know the facts well enough to say one way or the other. 

Henderson: Todd Halbur, you've called yourself a whistleblower. Did you contact State Auditor Mary Mosiman or Governor Kim Reynolds to blow the whistle on what you thought was going on in that agency? 

Halbur: Well, no one sits one day and just decides to be a whistleblower. I was the Chief Financial Officer of a state agency for three and a half years. Me and my executive team, I went to the executive team, to the administrator and to advise them that with this information that was discovered through a third party consultant, it wasn't just my own analysis, it was me confirming the analysis of the consultant, that we should go to the Auditor's Office, the AG's Office and the Governor's Office through the Department of Management because the agency goes to the Department of Management and then also to the commission -- 

Henderson: So did that happen? 

Halbur: No, it did not.

Henderson: Why? 

Halbur: Well, I was fired, for one. I think they wanted to cover it up. And I don't know the reason why but I was fired and I won my wrongful termination. 

Henderson: So what would your relationship be if Governor Reynolds is re-elected, since you essentially tried to be a whistleblower under her administration? 

Halbur: Well, I think it speaks volumes for someone that has the courage as a state employee, not an elected official, that stood up for what is right. And I think she would want someone as a state auditor to do what is right whether or not it is her appointee or someone else's appointee. And so I did have the courage, conviction and the integrity to stand up for what is right and I ultimately paid that price and I'll continue to do that as the state auditor. 

Murphy: Rob Sand, we talked about briefly those sexual harassment cases and the payments that the state has had to make and your belief that the offender should be held more accountable. The Attorney General's Office gave, I think was the reason you explained, why they haven't. First of all, do you accept that explanation? And then I'd also be curious, do you still see a problem in state government, is this still an issue across state government or has it been addressed since these cases came to light? 

Sand: I've heard multiple different reasons from multiple different entities why we aren't doing things differently. To me the bottom line is, nothing is going to change until we change something. This isn't just something that you should care about as a taxpayer, this is something that I hope all Iowans would care about in terms of preventing sexual harassment. There are people who are willing to do things like this who think they are going to be insulated from the consequences of their action. We have to illustrate to them that that's not the case. So to me, if we use that law that is on the books to go after people when their misconduct is willful and wanton, we are not only going to insulate taxpayers from having to pay every penny of that, but we're going to deter people from doing it in the first place because for some people out there they need the message that there is a consequence waiting for them if they misbehave. And so to me I haven't heard any explanation from anyone that has satisfied me as to why we aren't doing it. 

Murphy: Has the atmosphere in state government improved? 

Sand: Do I think that there is less sexual harassment in state government than there has been before? No, I don't think so. That's why I want us to start holding people personally accountable when they do this because I think the message needs to get sent that you can't just do that and expect that taxpayers are going to foot the bill for it. 

Murphy: Todd Halbur, if you're elected to this position, the auditor sits on a state panel that casts a vote in these matters of the state making payments for state settlements. Do you agree with Rob Sand's position here that in some of these cases, and particularly in cases of sexual harassment, that the state should be doing more to hold the individual offenders accountable and not just footing the bill for all of these cases? 

Halbur: Well, I do agree with that because we do have to have some lawful laws in place and work with the legislature to make those. I obviously would not be the lawmaker to do that. But the lawmakers need to decide what kind of teeth we want to have in state government for either sexual harassment, whistleblowing, whatever the case may be. And I would support those measures of what we would need to do. 

Murphy: So you think stronger legislation is needed? 

Halbur: Strong legislation would be needed I think and not just talk. The auditor's role is to enforce those rules of what is put on by the lawmakers. 

Sostaric: Rob Sand, you have said that the state accurately reported COVID data during the first year of the pandemic and you have also criticized the Governor for using COVID relief money for a PSA that she appeared in. Why did you do those things? 

Sand: Because they were both the right thing to do. A huge piece of not just this job but I think my approach to elected office in general is truth, integrity, accountability. So in the one instance, yes, we defended Governor Reynolds because there were people out there suggesting, incorrectly, that they had cooked the books and were holding the positivity rating lower so that they wouldn't have to shut things down early in the pandemic. The second time around we're talking about the use of CARES Act money that was intended to alleviate the impact of the pandemic that they put into buying software for state government. That is just not a qualifying use, never was going to be, the Trump administration agreed with us on that. I will work with anyone to get a good thing done, I will tell the truth about anyone. It isn't just something I do in the office. I also on social media will criticize democrats, I'll defend republicans when it's the right thing to do. That to me is the bottom line. 

Sostaric: Specifically on when you criticized the Governor for using COVID money for a PSA that she appeared in that was encouraging people to slow the spread of the disease, you were criticized for that saying people thought that just wasn't a correct conclusion that you reached. Do you still stand by that conclusion? 

Sand: One hundred percent. And in addition to that I think the thing that a lot of establishment partisans like to not talk about is the fact that we criticized democrats in the same report for doing the same thing. The Polk County Board of Supervisors is largely controlled by democrats, they have the majority there, they too put themselves in advertisements paid for with taxpayer dollars. There is a law in the state of Iowa that says, prohibition on self-promotion with taxpayer funds and it says you cannot put yourself into paid advertisements. Because the Polk County Board of Supervisors did it, we treated them the same way we treated the Governor's Office. And to the question of what the communication was for, the fact that it was promoting safe practices, our job is enforcing the rules and if we start looking at why it is you're breaking the rules then we're not enforcing the rules anymore, we're making a political judgment about whether or not we agree with your ultimate goal. Not something that anyone should do. If you're robbing a bank to give the money to the poor, you are still robbing a bank. 

Sostaric: Todd Halbur, we've had this massive amount of federal pandemic relief money come into the state. What would you ask your office to do in terms of reviewing how that is being spent in Iowa?

Halbur: Well, I would think the terms and conditions of what is required by the code of law and so I would just do a deep dive on those requirements and just do another audit of those. And I think with pandemic money and federal money, other monies that have been coming in through the federal government have had steps and things in place, with COVID money obviously it was get the money out the door as quickly as possible. So with that I think we need to take some extra scrutiny just because we were not used to the terms and conditions and the applications of those types of funds. 

Murphy: Rob Sand, your office issued a report on the private companies that manage the state's Medicaid program. Some of that was critical of how that is being conducted. Do you have plans for if you're elected to another year, another similar report? Because we know from talking to people that Medicaid is an important issue to folks and those managed care organizations are always under the microscope. 

Sand: Yeah, we do know that from talking to people. Today is Friday, this week I still had someone put me on an email and explained how their child was wrongfully denied a wheelchair and in another situation where still we had to send that over to the Department of Human Services as well as the MCO in charge of that child's care and ask them what they thought they were doing. This issue to me is ongoing. I think that Iowans are relatively well educated about the fact that this system is broken. An 891% increase in wrongful denials of care from before privatization to after privatization. And these are supposed to be companies that we hired because they're supposed to be good at this. That's numbers moving in the wrong direction. If there is additional different issues identified that we think that we haven't dug into that could potentially be something else that we would review. But we aren't going to redo what we've already done, we're not going to find again what we've already found when we think that the record is very clear as to how that system is working. 

Murphy: And you were criticized in some corners people suggested that that was a partisan act on your part, a democratic auditor finding a way to use the office to criticize a republican Governor. What is your response to people who said that? 

Sand: Go talk to some of the county officials that I've talked to, the guy wearing a Bidinflation cap at one of my town halls, I do 99 every year, who got emotional when I started talking about what was going on with Medicaid. The only people who call this a partisan issue are the people who are literally paid to advance partisan interests, period. 

Murphy: Todd Halbur, this kind of audit or report isn't mandatory from the office. Would your office also conduct similar performance reviews of state government similar to Rob Sand's office's review of MCOs? 

Halbur: Well, I would just look and stay within the lanes of what Chapter 11, the state auditor code of law is. And so it is heavily based upon financial audits and also special investigations if warranted and needed. So, if there comes to be a time, and there must have been a time regarding this issue, if lawmakers or others decide that they need to have a special investigation of any agency then the auditor's role is to move forward with that special investigation. 

Sostaric: In the 2018 election, republicans were saying that Rob Sand wasn't qualified to be the state auditor because he's not a CPA. That law has since been tweaked to clarify that it's all right. Todd Halbur, are you a CPA? 

Halbur: No I'm not. I'm a finance guy and so they did make that determination to be the elected official of the state auditor you do not have to be a CPA. But my qualifications in the finance and banking industry of over 15 years and also being a CFO of a large state agency for over three and a half years I think more than qualifies me to be the next state auditor. I know the budget system, the finance system and the procurement systems, been through the audits of those agencies. And so I think I can bring that experience to the office. 

Sand: And I'll clarify one thing on that, they didn't have to tweak it so that I could hold the position. They tweaked it because the CPA community felt that they wanted an adjustment in the way the law read in terms of how it regulated CPAs. We've had a farmer hold this office, we've had a teacher hold this office, I'm not the first attorney to hold the office. The office has always been available to be held by any Iowan who would run for it and get the most votes. 

Henderson: Todd Halbur, recently the person sitting next to you announced that he would open applications for jobs in his agency to people who had a two year degree. Is that something you would continue if you're elected? 

Halbur: I think it's with the job shortages that we have experienced in the state of Iowa and not only just in Iowa but throughout the country I think accounting degrees are one of the shortest amount of degrees, it takes some effort to get that degree and then costly as well. So I think any way that we can get more accountants into the field and then advance their career if they need to get into a four year degree, but maybe in the auditor's office that two year degree would suffice for some of the areas that would be in the auditor's role. 

Henderson: Rob Sand, how difficult has it been to keep and to attract and retain staff? 

Sand: We have been doing a lot to make ourselves more competitive in the market for people who do this work. It's mostly accountants and auditors in the office. I've got a little over two dozen CPAs I think. We've also created a new position for people with a law enforcement background because one of my issues coming in in 2018 was wanting to balance the office so that the investigative division had a few more people in it who knew how things were going to work in a courtroom which is a different setting. So we are going through the same struggles that the rest of the country has seen. We have done a lot to make the office a better, more enticing place to work. That is important to me. Actually when I first got elected my Thursday and Friday afternoons for the first few months were one-on-ones. Everybody who worked in the office could come in, sit down with me and get to know each other, talk about where we grew up, what good movies we'd seen lately. And then I'd always ask them, what's wrong with your job? Why don't you like your job? What is the thing that bugs you the most? And so we've made a ton of changes actually. And I want to compliment, we have still had a tripartisan leadership team, a democrat, an independent and a republican, all through my first term. Those are people that I promoted some of my first decisions as even auditor-elect who actually made campaign contributions to my opponent. And Marlys Gaston and Annette Campbell I want to specifically thank by name because working with them for those four years was really a wonderful example I think of what people can do when they want to just advance the public's interest as opposed to a partisan interest and they were great to work with in doing that. 

Murphy: We're down to our last couple of minutes and we want to talk about this campaign a little bit. Todd Halbur, we'll start with you on this one. You have not raised a lot of money for your campaign. What would you say to republicans, especially in a year when other republican candidates are raising a lot of money, that might have concern when they see those lower numbers next to your name? 

Halbur: I just want to point out that I think I have raised the appropriate amount of money and will continue to raise more money before the election happens. I think it's the appropriate amount of money to beat my opponent, Rob Sand, and he has had a war chest of money that has come in from the ultra-wealthy from the East Coast to the West Coast. Mine have all come from Iowans other than one, which was my cousin out in Colorado. And so I think I have the appropriate amount of money to beat my opponent. Unfortunately, Rob is continuing to raise money and I'm not sure he's going to have enough money to beat me. 

Henderson: Rob Sand, one minute left. 

Sand: Like your cousin in Colorado, almost anyone who is outside of the state that is contributing to an Iowa State Auditor's race is someone that I know too, family members, high school classmates, college classmates, law school classmates, stuff like that. I agree with Todd and I have always said, including in 2018, that there's too much money in politics. It creates a disincentive to solve problems, it creates disincentive to keep the status quo when special interests are telling you what to do. That's why I don't take any corporate PAC money and that is why in the work that I'm doing now pretty much anyone that is on my list is someone I've got a personal relationship with, just somebody who knows me. And I think that in a silly two party system that works the way it works I'm comfortable doing it the way I'm doing it so far. 

Henderson: We are out of time for this conversation. Thanks to both of you for sharing your views with Iowans. 

Halbur: Thank you.

Sand: Thanks. 

Henderson: This is the last in a series of Iowa Press episodes in which you have heard from the candidates who are running for Executive Office in state government. If you have missed any of these episodes you may find them at On behalf of all the hardworking crew here at Iowa PBS, we thank you for watching. 


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at