Osage Beach, Mo (August 30, 2017) Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway today addressed the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. Below is the text of her remarks:
Just before the start of the 2017 legislative session my office announced a legislative initiative to enhance the state's ability to investigate and prosecute official misconduct by public officials, holding them accountable to the citizens they serve.
I was proud to work with you on this important initiative. And I appreciate your association's leadership in advancing this bill - introduced as Senate Bill 176.
Over the past two years, my office has conducted audits of governmental entities that have uncovered millions in misspent and misappropriated public dollars. Sometimes the mistakes identified are innocent. Sometimes, however, audits uncover intentional theft and fraud by public officials.
We've uncovered evidence of local elected officials eliminating tax payments or fines for family members and friends. We've seen public officials directly steal taxpayer dollars for personal use, such as using an official credit card for thousands of dollars of personal purchases and awarding contracts to themselves — putting your tax dollars in their own pockets.
In the town of Viburnum in Iron County my audit uncovered at least $100,000 in missing or unaccounted for funds under the control of the long-time city clerk. Brian Parker is handling the prosecution of that case.
In Wright County my audit found that the county collector manipulated county tax bills to benefit herself and family members. Jason MacPherson's office handled that case.
When we expose this kind of corruption by public officials, the first questions citizens ask are:
How can we get our tax dollars back? How can we hold these officials accountable for breaching the public trust?
Unfortunately, state law isn't strong enough to protect Missourians and deter public officials from taking advantage of citizens. Right now, law enforcement and the State Auditor cannot easily work together to expose fraud and abuse.
Together, we identified the problem and brought forward a solution.
Senator Bob Dixon of Greene County and Representative Joe Don McGaugh in the House both joined our effort, offering a bill that would have increased penalties for public officials convicted of misconduct, and empowering our state's prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement agencies to request an audit by my office when official misconduct is suspected.
Our bill would have enhanced the penalties for government officials who abuse their power; from a misdemeanor to a class E felony, which carries a potential sentence of up to four years in prison.
Our legislation made it a felony to steal from the citizens these public officials are elected to serve and, following a finding of guilt, makes their removal from office more likely.
Our bill also empowered Missouri prosecutors and law enforcement to request my office to independently audit any local government suspected of fraud, misconduct, or abuse of public dollars.
My authority to initiate an audit of a specific political subdivision is limited by state law. No current provision in law clearly provides for a municipal level audit at the request of law enforcement, even when misconducted is strongly suspected.
Our bill would have provided additional powers for Missouri courts to recover stolen or misappropriated public dollars for their intended public use.
Although the bill changed a bit as it worked its way through the legislative process - eventually becoming Senate Bill 128 - it enjoyed widespread bipartisan support.
It passed with a strong majority.
Unfortunately, the bill was vetoed by the Governor.
As a result, all of the problems we identified that prevent our offices from working together remain.
I am determined to press ahead and get this issue across the finish line next session. As I travel the state, I've visited with many of you about how we can continue to work together on this effort.
When intentional misconduct happens, it's a matter of ethics and integrity. When public officials breach the public trust, prosecutors, law enforcement and the Auditor need to be able to effectively work together to protect citizens.
Our constituents rightfully expect this from us. It's not about party or politics.
Missourians cannot tolerate corrupt public officials who seek office to serve themselves at the expense of taxpayers.
This was the most significant piece of ethics legislation before the General Assembly last session. We are proud of the bipartisan support we built on its behalf.
Senator Dixon has agreed to introduce the bill again next session, and I look forward to working together for its passage.
Ultimately, greater public accountability for public officials benefits all levels of Missouri government.
Serving in public office is a public trust, and my office stands ready to assist Missouri law enforcement in ensuring that government officials, at all levels, discharge their duties for the benefit of the people they serve, not themselves.
Thank you again for having me today and I look forward to our continued partnership and collaboration.