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For a 'boring' post, auditors' only debate generates lots of sparks

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 15, 2010 - In their first and only joint appearance, Missouri's two major-party candidates for state auditor came out swinging this morning, as they accused each other of playing politics with a serious post that both asserted should be above the fray.

Their audience: the Missouri Press Association, meeting at the Lodge of the Four Seasons at Lake of the Ozarks.

State auditor Susan Montee, a Democrat running for re-election, cited her office's hefty record of audits of state and local governments, including more than 150 last year and close to that this year.

Republican Tom Schweich, a lawyer in St. Louis and former member of the Bush administration, went on the attack first by accusing Montee of issuing too many audits too close to the Nov. 2 election.

He claimed she was intentionally timing some audits to make her look good right before the election. Montee replied that if she had delayed issuing audits, she'd be accused "of not doing my job."

Montee, in turn, accused Schweich of seeking the post only because GOP leaders "took him into a back room" and forced Schweich to drop his initial quest for the U.S. Senate. "This office is much too important to 'step in,' " she said.

Schweich said he was happy with his choice of posts--"I enjoy public service" -- and cited his background as a lawyer focusing on corporate financial dealings, in which he said he oversaw a lot of audits. Schweich also had conducted investigations while a top aide to United Nations envoys John C. Danforth and John Bolton, Republicans who have endorsed him.

Moderator David Lieb with the Associated Press asked both how they would handle potential conflicts of political interest, citing Montee's early support for President Barack Obama and the $200,000-plus that Schweich has received from Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a fellow Republican.

Schweich described himself as "fiercely independent" and said he would recuse himself from any audit involving a donor. Montee said she has audited officials of both parties during her term "I have a four-year record that speaks for itself," she said.

Schweich also asserted that Montee hadn't been taking seriously the importance of monitoring the billions of dollars in federal stimulus money that the state of Missouri has received. Montee disagreed, saying that 55 of her 118 staff members are tracking the stimulus money and have been "on top of things."

Neither candidate mentioned the political buzz -- especially on the internet -- over a Youtube video from a hidden camera that shows Montee, slightly inebriated, at the annual Democrat Days last winter in Hannibal. Republicans are circulating the clip, and even Montee expects to see an attack ad featuring some of the footage.

"This is a secret video of a social event from a Republican operative,'' Montee said in an interview. "It has no content value in the state auditor's race. I would like to think that everyone would be above this."

The state auditor's contest has been overshadowed by other races, in part because Montee and Schweich have held off running TV spots. She began running an ad last week in St. Louis and Kansas City; the spot is now going statewide, she said.

The candidates' latest and last major campaign-finance reports, due today, showed that Montee had raised almost $1.04 million ($223,745 for the last quarter), spent $333,627, $700,345 in the bank as of Sept. 30. Schweich's full quarterly report had yet to be filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

She decried the state's lack of campaign donation limits, removed by the Legislature in 2007, which have led to both candidates -- but Schweich, in particular -- receiving large checks. Today, he reported receiving $25,000 from the Southwest Missouri Leadership PAC, a GOP group.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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