JEFFERSON CITY — The State Auditor’s Office removed the director of an audit of the office of former Attorney General Josh Hawley after Hawley alleged bias in the process, the new director of the audit said in a hearing Wednesday.
Hawley released an email excerpt Jan. 15 in which an audit manager suggested “beefing up” a section of the audit:
“I’m thinking I’ll just drop the confidentiality paragraph in the report and beef up the personal email/personal calendar section,” audit manager Pam Allison wrote. One minute later, she sent another, which read, “Please disregard that last email.”
The audit of Hawley’s office was prompted by a request from the secretary of state’s office because of the auditor’s office’s subpoena power. At issue is an allegation that Hawley misused public resources to boost his U.S. Senate campaign. Hawley’s office would have been the subject of a close-out audit whether or not he had resigned in January 2019, but the secretary of state’s request dealt with an issue that likely wouldn’t have been examined otherwise.
The hearing before the Special Committee on Government Oversight came as the race for Missouri governor heats up. Barring a primary upset, Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway is set to challenge Republican incumbent Gov. Mike Parson.
Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, questioned why the auditor’s office assigned Bobby Showers of the office as the director of the audit. Schroer said Showers had donated to then-Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign. Hawley ran against McCaskill. Schroer called into question possible bias.
Jon Hawles, director of quality control, said Showers had been removed from the audit around two weeks ago due to the possible appearance of bias and, at that time, Hawles took over. After a question from Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, Hawles said he couldn’t recall another instance of a director being removed from an audit in his 35 years of service.
He confirmed that the email was sent while Showers was overseeing the audit but said there was “no impropriety” in relation to the email, as the focus of audit reports can change significantly from the beginning to the end of the process.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, asked Hawles if he had identified any bias while looking over Showers’ work.
“From the beginning, I don’t believe that there was any bias that occurred throughout the audit,” Hawles said. ... “Making the change would eliminate even the appearance of that.”
Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, asked if the auditor’s office interviews employees before they’re assigned an audit to make sure they don’t have any biases. Hawles said that while there is not an interview process, auditors are required to fill out an independence evaluation form, which is designed to identify any biases. He emphasized that the office hires employees irrespective of their political background, and said the office doesn’t experience much turnover from administration to administration.
Hawles said even if an audit director was biased, it would be virtually impossible for an audit to be released that wasn’t independent. The audits go through quality control and are looked over by multiple other people to ensure that every conclusion drawn is linked and supported by evidence.
In a written statement, Galloway echoed Hawles’ testimony.
“Audit findings result from sufficient evidence and facts found during the course of audit work and in accordance with auditing standards,” she said. “It is simply not true that there was any political bias or impropriety during the audit process.”
According to previous Missourian reporting, state Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, introduced Senate Bill 927, which would require the state auditor be audited by an independent certified public accountant. When asked if the bill was filed in response to the email’s release, Schatz replied that “you could probably say there’s a connection there.”
The head of the committee, Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, did not rule out calling another committee hearing to discuss the audit.
It’s unclear if any action will be taken as a result of the hearing.
“There’s nothing off the top of my head we can do,” Schroer said. “We just want to expose any sort of bias or corrupt government. We want to go back to a more honest form of government.”
Claire Colby contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.