Bump clashes with opponents in televised debate

Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump

OCT. 1, 2014…..A former top aide’s wrongful termination lawsuit sparked a raucous back and forth during a Wednesday televised debate between Auditor Suzanne Bump and her Republican challenger, who charged that Bump “hasn’t been doing her job.”

Bump characterized the ex-aide, Laura Marlin, as a “disgruntled former employee” who was asked to resign due to “repeated pattern of unprofessional conduct in the office.”

Marlin has alleged that she endured “invectives” from Bump after Marlin questioned Bump’s suggestion that Marlin call the political director of the Service Employees International Union Local 509 during an audit of the Department of Children and Families, which has employees who are in the union. Marlin charged Bump with mixing politics and State House business because Bump had previously asked for the union’s endorsement.

“It was not an endorsement meeting, it was to discuss an audit that had been conducted” and dealt with the management of the agency, Bump (D-Great Barrington) said during Wednesday’s debate, where the lawsuit surfaced as the first topic.

“I’m sorry, but that is not Auditing 101, it’s not Auditing 401,” Patricia Saint Aubin, a Norfolk Republican, responded. “Because the books tell the story in an audit. You have no one weigh in on the audit. You go in to a room with the books, the invoices, the general ledger, the profit and loss statements.”

Saint Aubin said having officials weigh in on an audit “compromises an audit,” but Bump said there is a difference between government auditing and the types of financial auditing with which Saint Aubin is familiar.

“That’s not what governmental auditing is about,” Bump responded. “And in fact you want to reach out to as many sources of information, because we are not doing the kind of auditing that she is suggesting. She has familiarity with financial auditing in the private sector.”

Bump said her office focuses on compliance and performance auditing.

The Wednesday evening debate, televised on New England Cable News and moderated by anchor Mike Nikitas, was the first time all the candidates for auditor, including Green-Rainbow Party’s M. K. Merelice, appeared together.

During the 17-minute debate, Saint Aubin said she was the only one at the table who has audited professionally and holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting. “I intend to excel in this job,” she said.

Asked for her view on auditing, Merelice passed on a chance to comment on the wrongful termination lawsuit and told Nikitas, “It has to be more than number-crunching.”

Bump, a former state lawmaker who served as Gov. Deval Patrick’s labor and workforce development secretary, was narrowly elected to the office in 2010, with 48 percent of the vote.

The National State Auditors Association in 2011 assessed the auditor’s office, run by former boxer Joseph DeNucci for 24 years. The association found it did not have proper policies and procedures, Bump said, adding, “We changed everything in the past four years.”

Saint Aubin said the association also pointed out that Bump was required to audit 375 agencies once every two years.

“And then she said, ‘I can’t possibly meet every two years with these audits,'” Saint Aubin said.

“No you can’t possibly,” Bump said, adding that her office switched to “risk-based auditing” so they could focus on transactions and available information to discover where an agency would go “off-track” or misuse public resources.

Bump said her office had identified $400 million in broken systems, abuse and fraud, prosecuted public assistance fraud and jailed people for food stamp fraud.

But Merelice questioned Bump’s independence. “I think it’s very hard to talk about independence and auditing of Beacon Hill when you have candidates who are accepting contributions from lobbyists, from people who work for the corporations and from even the departments that they are a member of the political party of,” Merelice said. “There is no independence in that.”

Merelice said she has pledged to receive no contributions from lobbyists or from corporate offices of corporations that lobby. “That means we can literally be independent in our review of what takes place in the departments,” she said.

Asked for her top priority if re-elected, Bump said she wants to audit the state Department of Revenue to ensure business tax breaks are effective. “I don’t have that power right now,” she said.

Saint Aubin sought to brandish a chart headlined “Bump’s Decline,” saying the number of audits have gone down. Thirty-two audits have been performed this year as of Sept. 1, Saint Aubin said, leading to cross-talk between her and Bump.

“[M]y priority would be to make sure that the way we spend our tax dollars invests in people and the planet,” Merelice said.

“We cannot let any resource be laid to waste, whether financial, or human and environmental,” Merelice added in her closing remarks, turning to the camera. “I ask for your vote so together we can audit whether the state is investing in people’s wellbeing and our planet’s health. Thank you for listening.”

A Suffolk University-Boston Herald poll of 500 likely voters released on Monday showed Bump with 38 percent of the vote, Saint Aubin with 19 percent and Merelice with 5 percent. Thirty seven percent said they were undecided.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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