On a stage in Northampton last week, Democratic candidates for auditor, transit advocate Chris Dempsey and state Senator Diana DiZoglio, were asked about the moment they decided to run for the largely managerial role.
“One answer to the question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ that we’ve rarely heard is ‘Gee, mom, when I grow up, I want to be state auditor!’” radio host and panelist Bill Newman said, joking about the less-than-exciting position.
DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat angling to replace longtime Auditor Suzanne M. Bump, answered the question first.
“The ‘Aha!’ moment for me with that was when I learned that I would have the authority to use subpoena authority to do these investigations and shine a light on what’s really occurring across our state government,” she said.
But the auditor doesn’t really have subpoena authority, an issue that has come up as the candidates make their case to voters on the campaign trail.
According to state law, if the subject of an audit refuses to provide Bump’s office with the necessary records, the auditor can seek an order from the Superior Court. The auditor doesn’t have the authority to legally compel testimony or records, but a court order can help the office get access to material being withheld.
But this is not a subpoena, Bump clarified.
“We don’t have subpoena authority,” she told the Globe in an interview.
According to state law, the auditor may summon witnesses or documents only if necessary while reviewing proposals to privatize state services, “a tiny of piece of what we do,” according to Bump.
There have been only eight such proposals since Bump took office more than a decade ago, including Massasoit Community College’s proposal to privatize its catering services and the privatization of bookstores at three other colleges across the state.
None of the proposals required information to be obtained using a subpoena.
After this story published online, DiZoglio said that she disagreed with Bump’s assessment that the use of subpoenas is a small part of the job.
“With all due respect, Massachusetts law clearly states ‘the state auditor or his designee may require by summons the attendance and testimony under oath of witnesses and the production of books, papers and other records’ in other privatization reviews,” she said in a statement. “While it unfortunately may have not been utilized to its full potential in the past, this tool needs to be highlighted more often as a way to help save tax dollars wastefully spent on privatization of serves that could be kept in-house potentially at a much lower cost.”
A government audit involves the collection of data from a government entity, program, or contractor to identify misspending or neglect of duties.
Just because Bump doesn’t really have subpoena power, however, doesn’t mean she hasn’t sought it in the past. In 2015, her office filed legislation that would grant such powers to the auditor’s Bureau of Special Investigations. The bill received a study order, which usually is a dead end for legislation.
“We have unsuccessfully filed legislation in the past to get subpoena power just for that one agency,” Bump said. “It is well established that for most of the functions of the auditor’s job, subpoena powers do not come into play.”
In a statement, DiZoglio didn’t specifically address her comments at the forum, but said that as auditor, she will use every power afforded to her to “save tax dollars and increase accountability.” She specifically mentioned focusing on her priorities, such as the use of nondisclosure agreements for state employees, the deaths at the state-run veterans’ home in Holyoke, and the Department of Early Education and Care.
“The State Auditor has the authority to compel administrative records through the Superior Court,” she said. “While I hope that this power would be one of last resort, I am ready and willing to use it.”
“It’s important that a State Auditor do the research first and then come to conclusions,” Dempsey campaign counsel and former counsel to the state auditor Gerry McDonough said in a statement. “In this case, the facts are clear that the State Auditor does not have subpoena power. You can’t do the job if you don’t follow the facts.”
Bump announced that she would not be running for a fourth term in May of last year, and DiZoglio announced her candidacy shortly after in June. Dempsey followed in July. Anthony Amore, the unopposed Republican candidate, jumped into the race this March.