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West Virginians will choose whether to keep Republican incumbent John McCuskey as state auditor this November, or instead turn to Democrat Mary Ann Claytor to help maintain the state’s financial integrity.
It is a position that entails much more than one might think — with the current office employing 250 workers. The state auditor is the bookkeeper for West Virginia – overseeing the use of state funds and payroll for state employees, independent of the Governor’s Office and the Legislature — which sets the state budget.
The auditor is also West Virginia’s chief inspector, meaning the office checks in on how money is being spent by local governments.
The auditor’s office provides transparency between the government’s budget and the people, said Marybeth Beller, Marshall University associate political science professor.
“It’s a very large operation, and one that is really in charge on all levels of making sure that the state is fiscally responsible,” Beller said.
In the 157 years of West Virginia state auditors, much of the time the office has been held by a Democrat; however, Beller said the position is effectively non-partisan.
“The auditor does not set public policy like the governor would or the legislature would, in terms of how monies are to be appropriated,” she said. “Rather the auditor makes sure that however those monies are appropriated that they’re spent properly. It’s not an ideological position at all. It’s one of accountability.”
There is also no term limit for state auditor – prior to McCuskey, the incumbent, Democrat Glen Gainer III held the office for 24 years.
Since taking office in 2017, McCuskey has implemented programs that he said improves transparency when it comes to state spending.
‘West Virginia Checkbook’ was rolled out in 2018. It is a public website that shows how the state and local governments are spending taxpayer money in real time. So far 19 counties have opted in, and McCuskey said if reelected he hopes to have all counties participating in the West Virginia Checkbook program.
“Our goal is to start to use the power of digital information to streamline the audit process and give us a perspective window into potential future financial collapses of smaller governments and enable us to stop catastrophes before they happen as opposed to trying to pick up the pieces after they do,” McCuskey said.
Monongalia County was the first to implement the West Virginia Checkbook program. County Commissioner and Democrat Tom Bloom said McCuskey has his vote, namely because of the pilot program.
Bloom said he would like McCuskey to have the opportunity to roll out the program to more counties, specifically boards of education where taxpayers’ money is being spent through levies.
“Many times, a politician is told, “Oh, you took this money and spent it somewhere else.” Now we can say, “Please go into the open checkbook, go right here,”’ Bloom said. “As long as people understand the process of where their money’s going and how it’s being used then it makes government so much easier to smoothly run.”
In 2017, the state auditor’s office partnered with West Virginia University to allow accounting students to perform audits on local governments. McCuksey said it prepares students for a job in the auditor’s office after college, while also helping the communities themselves.
“Cities are getting looked at and audited on a much more frequent basis, which is just good,” McCuskey said. “It’s good for fraud detection. It’s good, it’s just good government.”
McCuskey also implemented a fraud prevention unit. He said his office has identified 14 felony convictions for government fraud in the last three and a half years.
Prior to State Auditor, McCuskey was a two-term House of Delegates member for the 35th District of Charleston. He received his bachelor’s degree in political communication from George Washington University, and a law degree from WVU.
Challenger Mary Ann Claytor ran a grassroots campaign against McCuskey in 2016, receiving about 35 percent of the vote, as opposed to McCuskey’s 58 percent. However, Claytor’s win in the 2016 Democrat primary was a “political upset” as she was largely considered the underdog in the race.
This year Claytor is the party’s choice and is also a ‘West Virginia Can’t Wait’ candidate — meaning she has signed a pledge not to accept corporate donations to her campaign. She said she is the most qualified for the office.
“I’m the only candidate that’s running for state auditor, that actually has an accounting degree,” Claytor said. “And the extensive experience, you know, that I have, and the ability to actually do an audit if necessary.”
For 22 years she was employed by the state auditor’s office and the state tax department. Claytor received her bachelor’s in business administration, with a focus on accounting, from West Virginia State University and a master’s in religion from Liberty University.
If elected, Claytor said she would like to implement a grievance board and streamline the auditing process. She plans to personally visit every municipality in the state to evaluate how in-depth her office should be with each one.
“Sometimes we do things that because over history, we’ve found embezzlements, we’ve added additional procedures that we’ve done,” Claytor said. “So, I think we’re at the point where we try to need to evaluate those extra procedures that we do. So that we can see, are they still necessary even though they’re not, you know, required?”
Claytor said she would also like the timeliness of audits to be transparent. So, whether the state auditor office is behind or ahead of its yearly audits, the public would know.
Supporting Claytor this election cycle is Susan Perry, a Logan County resident and candidate for House of Delegates 24th District. Perry said she fluctuated between voting Republican and Democrat throughout her life, but regardless of party, she thinks Claytor’s experience speaks for itself.
“There’s very serious implications for our state, in who we put in those positions, and so the fact that Mary Ann has auditing experience and qualifications make me want to support her,” Perry said.
But not having career auditing experience does not necessarily rule a candidate out, as the state auditor is also a management position, said Marybeth Beller, Marshall University associate political science professor.
“We’ve got two different people who have qualifications, they both have different backgrounds, but both qualify them for the position,” Beller said.
Regardless of who is elected, the state auditor’s office will continue to monitor how the state allocates and spends COVID-19 funds in the new year — just like all other funds that flow through the state Treasury.