State Auditor says investigation into coronavirus contracts won’t be finished before the primary election

Coronavirus 12

Some possible good news for the gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox — State Auditor John Dougall tells that it is “unlikely” his independent audit of the Herbert/Cox administration’s “single-source” purchases dealing with the coronavirus will be finished and made public by the June 30 primary election.

That means if — and it is a big if — there were to be any politically unfavorable information about how the governor’s office is spending around $90 million worth of virus-related services/products, in the early stages of fighting the virus, it won’t come to light before GOP voters pick between Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former state GOP chairman Thomas Wright.

Of course, should the Dougall audit clear the Herbert/Cox administration of any improprieties in the virus spending BEFORE the election, that would be really good news for Cox — whose candidacy is strongly supported by Herbert, who is not running again for the state’s highest executive office.

But short of that clearance, it’s certainly best that no bad news comes from the audit — if that is to ultimately be the case — before the vote, for obvious reasons.

Whichever Republican wins the primary — and he could do so with only around 30-35 percent of the vote — will almost certainly be our next governor, in very red Utah. Voters here have not put a Democrat in the governor’s seat since 1980, 40 years ago.

Cox leads the four-man GOP race, recent Y2 Analytics polling for and KUTV 2News shows.

Dougall makes these points in telling that the audit likely won’t come before the vote:

  • Most of his audits take at least two months, many lasting longer than that.
  • His office started the audit “about four weeks ago.”
  • In fact, the audit may not be finished and made public before September, although Dougall hopes it will be by at least then, because then his office has to start large state financial audits, required each year.
  • Both the timing of this audit — around primary election time — and it’s subject — possible financial screwups by an administration involving an active gubernatorial candidate — “probably” makes it the most political audit Dougall has done in his time in the Auditor’s Office. That is one reason, says Dougall, his office will follow “standard” procedures that will ensure the virus spending audit is thorough and accurate.

Dougall, who always seems to have ways of throwing some curve balls to reporters, tells that “normally” his office doesn’t do an audit of the virus’ type “if the public has learned about important issues” via the press or other public sources.

This, of course, leads to the question of whether Dougall believes the public has learned answers to all of the significant questions being raised about the spending of the $90 million.

Dougall said a number of issues will come out in the audit.

What kind of issues?

  • The timeline of when various decisions were made about spending/single-source contracting took place.
  • Not just who “signed” purchase documents, but who ordered that those documents be signed — the trail of decision-making/order-giving, if you will.
  • These were emergency times, of course, and it is clear normal purchasing procedures were not followed — that is understood. But were “reasonable” purchasing procedures followed? If so, what were they?
  • Were there any “improper dealings” which took place in awarding single-source contracts?

Dougall said it is important for the audit to try to clarify not what virus-fighting information is known today, but what was known when the state purchasing/spending decisions were made — context is important.

If there is “enough light” that has been shown on a state spending issue by the media or others, said Dougall, then normally his office doesn’t see the need to get involved.

The fact that he is doing an audit of the virus spending, in and of itself, thus indicates that not enough light has been shown.

Which is kind of odd, since all kinds of news organizations, including, (and perhaps other individuals or groups) flooded Herbert’s office with public records requests, or GRAMA filings, dealing with the virus-fighting purchases. Dozens of stories were written or broadcast.

But, it is well known, what you get in a GRAMA request often depends on how you ask for the information. And if you don’t ask the right question, you may not get the answers that bring light, so to speak.

After the various single-source spending started to come to light — virus testing that was originally not supposed to cost the state anything ended up being very expensive; spending $800,000 by Herbert/Legislature on a drug that ended up not helping virus patients (that money was refunded); various technology purchases that now are questionable, and so on — Herbert/Cox’s administration conducted an internal investigation which showed nothing improper happened — good people made good-faith purchasing decisions under great pressure to save lives and avoid serious illnesses.

But, oddly enough, that “investigation” itself had no document trail — when GRAMA requests for it came in, no written investigation summaries were found.

It appears that “investigation” took only a day or two, is told.

“My office couldn’t have done that investigation in a day” or two, said Dougall.

And it won’t. The state Auditor’s Office report will be thorough, said Dougall. And, thus, it likely won’t be finished or made public by June 30.