#1. Bringing Accountability to our Secretary of State’s Office to Better Protect Tax Dollars and Public Trust

With no legislative financial audit in more than eleven years and a payroll that surged to over 100 staff members, New Hampshire’s Secretary of State has traditionally resisted accountability to legislators and the public. Here are some ways we can change that:

In the last financial audit of the office in 2007, the findings were alarming. “Weaknesses in the Department’s processing of revenues were noted in our prior 1996 audit and remained in the Department’s revenue process approximately ten years later.” The office has “placed its operations at considerable risk of IT failure.” In the audit, 52% of expenditures reviewed did not display evidence of being reviewed & approved prior to payment. Fifty percent of payments eligible for discounts were overpaid, wasting tax dollars. Revenues were deposited in the wrong accounts in violation of state law, and costs were charged to unrelated accounts.

We owe the people of New Hampshire better accountability than this.

A. Audits. My first action as Secretary of State would be to request a full financial audit of the Office of Secretary of State – last completed more than eleven years ago. The last state audit completed in 2007 identified 11 “Material Weaknesses” and 19 “Significant Deficiencies” in the office (in layperson’s language, each Material Weakness identifies an area of real risk that fraud, theft, or serious error won’t even be detected). Waiting more than eleven years without an audit to independently confirm whether these issues have been successfully addressed is dangerous. If elected to the role, I will immediately request a financial audit and will support a requirement of a similar audit every 4 years.

B. Better Performance Reviews. It’s time for a performance audit as well. A “performance audit” gets beyond dollars and cents – for example, a recent state performance audit of the Air Resources Division at the Department of Environmental Services found 96% of contractors said our state staff provide timely assistance and feedback; but the more than 50% of these high-quality state staff are eligible to retire within five years — and the Department’s workforce planning is lacking. If we examine the Air Resource Division with such detail, shouldn’t we do the same for the state office charged with our elections, all corporate creation, corporate securities, vital records, archives, and more?

C. Continuous Oversight. Until the Secretary of State’s outstanding 11 Material Weaknesses are addressed, we need annual oversight. Perhaps most alarming in the last state audit was how little had been addressed after prior concerns were raised in the 1990s. Of the twelve central reportable findings in the prior 1996 audit, auditors found that only three items had been substantially addressed in the following decade – even though staff in the office increased from 43 employees to 116 employees in that time period (including, the audit notes, 5 family members of senior management officials). Given this track record, we need annual review from either legislative or independent auditors until all Material Weaknesses are addressed. It is not enough to rely on any public office to self-police their own response to serious findings like these.

It’s time for positive, concrete action to bring public accountability to our Secretary of State’s office – and a good place to start is with long-overdue financial & performance audits and a commitment to address all outstanding weaknesses.

I saw the power of accountability when I served a quarter-million fellow citizens as a state Executive Councilor from 2012 – 2016, charged with working with the Governor and four other councilors to keep our state’s executive branch agencies accountable. We met with every state agency regularly. Each Councilor had the independence to disagree with appointments or state contracts – and we did.

Even our state’s constitutional offices must be accountable to the people. No one is above accountability, and it’s time to elect a Secretary of State who welcomes it.

Source: Read the last full financial audit here: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/LBA/AuditReports/FinancialReports/pdf/SOS_2007.pdf