LAKE OZARK — In contrast to the fiery insults that have been flung between parties in the campaign for Missouri's open U.S. Senate seat, the candidates for state auditor maintained a more cordial atmosphere in their first and only debate of the campaign season.
Democrat and current Auditor Susan Montee and Republican Tom Schweich stuck mostly to the issues during the debate, and lobbed only a few personal attacks against each other. Libertarian Charles Baum failed to show up for the debate.
Montee and Schweich primarily stuck to boasting about their personal records as qualifications for the office — Montee citing her accomplishments as the state's auditor, and Schweich touting his law and investigation background.
Despite Montee’s cheerful smile and Schweich’s soft-spoken answers, the two managed to artfully work in a few jabs at each other. In the most notable outburst of the debate, Montee accused Schweich of only running for auditor, rather than the Senate as he originally intended, because of backroom deals.
"I'm the only one up at this table who got up one morning and said I'd like to be the state auditor," Montee said. "In fact, Mr. Schweich, you know, toyed around with playing a different race until they took him in a backroom and put him into this one."
Schweich didn't address the comment in his rebuttal, but instead said that the office of auditor is ideal for someone with his background.
“I really kind of live, breathe and eat anti-fraud, anti-crime, anti-corruption, audits and investigations,” Schweich said.
The candidates quibbled throughout the debate about the merits of being a Certified Public Accountant in an office of financial audits.
Montee pronounced the need for a trained accountant, while Schweich pointed at past auditors who were not certified, including now-U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, outgoing U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"What we need is management skill, tenacity and the ability to root out fraud, waste and abuse," Schweich said. "The office has 50 CPAs and they're very important to have in that office but the idea that you have to be a CPA to be auditor is contrary to her own mentor's (McCaskill) statements and her own statements in the past."
There was an obvious difference in opinion regarding the system Montee devised that allocates the financial statement section of county audits to a local accounting firm, selected through a bidding process.
“We have a 20 percent cost savings because we have CPA firms doing just one piece of it (the audit), and the counties have seen a cost savings as well,” Montee said. “And because we are controlling it, we can make sure they get interim advice that is helping with some of these issues that you are talking about.”
However, Schweich later stated that this county initiative would be one of the first programs he looks at to cut costs in the auditors office, claiming the process creates potential conflict of interest and problems with supervision.
“Before she came in, there was about $3,000-$5,000 a year spent on outsourcing audits. Now it’s about $800,000 a year where the audits are outsourced to private firms,” Schweich said.
The election is Nov. 2.