The rumors are true: I have proposed that people in public positions of trust and power who steal large amounts of taxpayer funds receive at least some prison time, every time. One of the worst things about our system right now is the incredible willingness and ability of insiders to avoid serious consequences. I’ve spent over a decade between my work as the state’s chief public corruption prosecutor and now as Iowa’s state auditor, working against that. Making prison mandatory for trusted insiders who steal from taxpayers would help.

By comparison, our justice system often comes down too harshly on petty and victimless acts. That must be fixed, but I believe we are all capable of understanding the difference between those issues and this one. On this issue of prison time for stealing taxpayer funds, here’s the reality.

Iowa law right now sets no limit to how much money public employees and officials can steal from Iowa taxpayers and still see not a day in prison. You read that right. Many who steal tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars receive probation, and are put on a payment plan that finishes repayment in 200 years or so.

The certainty of punishment can stop some people from committing financial crimes in the first place. That’s because these people are calmly and soberly considering the pros and cons of abusing their trust and power. Many other crimes are harder to deter because the people committing them are intoxicated, emotional and/or desperate during a single moment of choice.

Combining those two paragraphs leads to a simple conclusion: we could prevent at least some thefts of Iowa taxpayer funds by making prison a stone cold fact for any insider’s calm and sober considerations about whether to abuse their trust and power.

But it isn’t effective, efficient or humane to throw away the key. Unreasonably long prison sentences result in forgetting how to function in the real world, building ties to criminal networks, learning better ways to commit crimes or becoming irreparably disconnected from one’s family. Such sentences are a waste of taxpayer funds.

Under current law, many corrupt public officials who do actually get prison time serve four to 10 months, as determined by the Board of Parole. My proposal would set no mandatory minimum sentence, so that length wouldn’t change. The point is, that length is better than nothing and will improve deterrence.

Now, checks and balances exist, and for good reason. I can’t make this happen on my own. The ones with the ability and opportunity to actually make this happen are our state legislators (truthfully, just the handful of Republican legislators in majority-party leadership that hold almost all of the power) and the governor.

All I will promise is to continuing pushing for this, because I won’t promise you something I can’t deliver on my own. I know we practically expect politicians to lie about the world and then lie about their ability to change it. Heck, Roby Smith just launched his state treasurer campaign by lying about a federal policy and then falsely claiming that the State Treasurer could do anything about it. We must quit accepting this type of behavior.

I don’t claim to be perfect, just different. Instead of firing Auditor’s Office employees who contributed to my 2018 opponent, I kept them on staff and even promoted some to senior positions. Our senior leaders are a Democrat, an independent and a Republican. I tend to think when we both work as a team and listen to each other, we are better able to stick to reality and reach common sense solutions that actually solve problems. That’s sadly uncommon these days in politics, which is one reason why I can’t stand politics. What I love is public service, and that’s what I’ll stick to.

Rob Sand, a Decorah native, is Iowa’s 33rd state auditor.

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