The conviction of Jeff McMahan and his resignation as state auditor and inspector provides the governor and Legislature with the perfect opportunity to do away with the office.
The Legislature partially did the job by stripping McMahan of his powers and duties under the Oklahoma Abstractors Law in its 2007 session. Signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry, the regulation and licensing of abstractors were handed over to the Oklahoma Abstractors Board on Jan. 1 of this year.
Oversight of the abstractors was one of many Achilles’ heels that have politicized this office since its creation at statehood. Abstractors’ political contributions poured into the campaigns of incumbent state auditors, and the potential for corruption led to McMahan’s downfall.
There was no good reason to have the state auditor overseeing abstractors. There should have always been an oversight commission, just as there are for doctors, lawyers, certified public accountants and other professionals.
Now, let’s reassign all the other duties of the state auditor to more appropriate providers and abolish the office of state auditor once and for all.
Most of it can be done by legislative action. The only duties specifically assigned by the Oklahoma Constitution to the state auditor are auditing state and county books. Every other duty is prescribed by laws passed by the Legislature.
The primary reason for not having a state auditor is economy in government. A large bureaucracy has developed in the office, whose auditing functions could be better and more efficiently performed by private sector CPAs. CPA firms audit school districts, municipalities and many other divisions of state government, and there’s no reason why they can’t perform the audits now assigned to the state auditor.
Just as was the case with abstractors, people associated with counties audited by the state auditor have historically been major contributors to campaigns for that office. It makes no sense to have an elected official conducting audits because of the potential for influence and corruption.
Since the adoption of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act following the Enron scandal, accounting firms are probably subject to more ethical regulation than any other profession. Using them for all governmental audits in the state makes perfect sense.
Another compelling reason to eliminate the office was the political grandstanding of the state auditor and his predecessor when engaged in investigative audits. The state constitution, adopted in 1907, only requires three years experience as an “expert accountant,” enabling McMahan and his immediate predecessor to be elected although they are neither certified public accountants nor lawyers.
When directed to do investigative audits, they typically politicized them by hyping their findings and proclaiming violations of law to the media, instead of professionally turning over the results to the appropriate law enforcement officials for review and action.
It would be more appropriate for the attorney general and district attorneys to assign investigative audits on an as-needed basis to forensic accountants who would provide them with the findings to determine what actions should be taken.
Now is the time to amend the state constitution and eliminate a state office that is no longer needed and is prone to abuse, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Surely this is an issue on which Democrats and Republicans can come together and do the right thing.
Bleakley is publisher of Oklahoma Gazette.