Republican state auditor Keith Faber (left) is facing off against Democrat Taylor Sappington, the Nelsonville city auditor.
In a week, Ohio voters head to the polls. And while the races for U.S. Senate or governor have swallowed up most of the attention, voters will decide on a number of other important statewide offices. Among them is the state auditor, tasked with fiscal oversight for every public institution in Ohio.
It’s the state auditor’s responsibility to keep an eye on public funds. To keep tabs on how institutions are using tax dollars, the office audits every public office at least once every other fiscal year. That ambit includes not only every city, county, village and township but also every state agency, university and school district.
All told, the auditor’s office conducts regular reviews of more than 5,600 entities.
In addition to those regular performance audits, the office also has a team that can investigate tips about potential fraud or corruption.
For the first time last year, the auditor took on another role as part of the state redistricting commission. The auditor serves alongside the governor, secretary of state and four legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle to draft district lines for Congress and the state legislature.
Although it’s not part of the job, the auditor’s office can also serve as a sort of launching pad for higher profile state gigs. After all, spending a few years as the state’s financial watchdog can do a lot for a candidate’s credentials. In recent years, former auditors like Dave Yost and Mary Taylor have gone on to be attorney general and lieutenant governor respectively.
Auditor Keith Faber
Republican Keith Faber is running for reelection as state auditor. Prior to his current post, Faber spent 18 years representing Celina in the state legislature. During that tenure Faber served in the House, then then the Senate — rising to Senate president from 2013 to 2017. After term limits ended his Senate career, he returned to the House for one term before running for auditor.
Faber’s campaign did not respond to multiple phone calls or emails for this story.
Faber’s campaign website describes him as “a leader in the effort to move Ohio forward by advocating for a more efficient, effective, and transparent government in Columbus.” He offers little about new initiatives he’d pursue during a second term, but touts achievements of his first one. Faber claims credit for more than 90 criminal convictions and 141 findings for recovery totaling more than $15 million dollars. He also points to more than $5 billion in unemployment fraud or overpayments.
At a campaign event in Canton earlier this month Faber emphasized those achievements.
“I get to be your watchdog over people who spend government money,” he told the crowd, “and unfortunately since I became your State Auditor now almost four years ago, business has been good.”
But speaking alongside Republican U.S. House nominee Madison Gesiotto Gilbert and U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance, Faber strayed pretty far from his role in state government. He made a vague nod toward so-called parents rights rhetoric.
“We believe that families moms and dads are gonna make far better decisions about their kids and their kids education than government bureaucrats,” Faber said.
He hammered the Biden administration over high gas prices. He argued student loan forgiveness would cost as much as “10 Hurricane Ians.” Grasping at a connection, he brought up his audit of Ohio’s College Credit Plus program which let’s middle and high schoolers enroll in college courses.
“That’s how you lick higher education’s high costs,” Faber argued. “It’s not by forgiving loans on the back end — that’s a symptom.”
Pointing to the other candidates speaking with him, Faber insisted they weren’t just there because they like “elephants better than donkeys.”
Faber’s Democratic opponent is Nelsonville city auditor Taylor Sappington. He won that office in 2019 after serving one term as a city council member. From Sappington’s telling he was “baptized by fire” when he took over as auditor.
He walked in the door to find the office’s email system wiped. Numerous financial and payroll records were gone as well. Sappington eventually uncovered payroll fraud tied to the former deputy auditor. She was eventually arrested at a casino in Las Vegas, Sappington notes, “a metaphor if there ever was one.”
Between the fraud itself and various fines and penalties, the city was on the hook for nearly half a million dollars. Sappington successfully lobbied the IRS and the attorney general to forgive the bulk of that amount so Nelsonville taxpayers didn’t pay for a former official’s crimes.
“Not only was I able to defeat the forces of corruption and earn jail time and restitution on behalf of the taxpayer,” he said, “but I was able to then use that same energy and vigor to take on the massive debts accrued by the city in this payroll theft.”
“I guess what I’m trying to get at is, is that with integrity, and energy and dedication, good government works,” he added. “But you need those qualities and a leader, right?”
Sappington argued state Republican officials have looked the other way as scandals have mounted and taken little action to fight corruption. He cites the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and the House Bill 6 as two recent examples.
Sappington offers three examples of what he’d do differently, if elected. He proposed a public corruption task force in partnership with the state attorney general. The team would focus on state contracting for projects like highways or economic development through JobsOhio to root out bribery.
Sappington contends Faber is failing to conduct enough special audits. Faber’s predecessor, Dave Yost conducted 25 special audits in his first term and 19 in his second. Auditor Faber has so far released eight. Sappington said he would push that figure back to what he describes as the historical average of 20 to 30.
“There’s no way we can take on corruption if we’re not looking into it,” he said, “and in some ways, my story at Nelsonville is a great example that half the battle — sometimes three quarters of the battle — is just showing up.”
Sappington’s final promise is a different vote when it comes to redistricting. He criticized Faber’s rejection of maps because he contended they were gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. Sappington argued the current maps are unconstitutional and the redistricting commission may get another crack at drawing lines. Sappington said his north star on the commission would be advancing competitiveness, not his party.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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