CHARLESTON — It’s nothing short of a love for the work that has the two candidates for West Virginia auditor returning to the campaign trail in 2020.
Democrat Mary Ann Claytor and incumbent Republican J.B. McCuskey last met in the 2016 election, when McCuskey ran the successful campaign to replace Auditor Glen Gainer, who resigned from his post that year for a job in Washington, D.C.
This year, Claytor and McCuskey again are competing to be the bookkeeper for the state of West Virginia, a $95,000-per-year job, and make sure West Virginians are able to see for themselves how their tax dollars are being spent and cared for by state officials.
McCuskey, of Charleston, has a bachelor’s degree in political communication from George Washington University and a law degree from the West Virginia University College of Law. He worked as an attorney in private practice for Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Charleston and served two two-year terms in the state House of Delegates before voters elected him auditor.
If re-elected, McCuskey said this would be his last term in office, saying he believed in holding himself to term limits.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be re-elected, eight years is plenty of time for me to have accomplished my vision for this office,” McCuskey said. “It will be time to let somebody else come in and motivate the staff who have made it their life’s mission to make the Auditor’s Office work really well.”
Claytor, of St. Albans, has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from West Virginia State University and a master’s degree in religion from Liberty University.
She worked as a compliance officer in the Auditor’s Office for more than 20 years before taking leave from the office in 2016 to care for her son and work as a freelance auditor.
When her son, Cedric, died in January after living with Budd-Chiari syndrome, a liver disease, for more than 10 years, Claytor said she and her husband began talking about what the next chapter of their lives would be like.
Claytor said hers would be in pursuit of, and hopefully returning to, work in the Auditor’s Office.
“We’ve been made to believe that we have to accept a certain bar in politics,” Claytor said. “The reason I’m running is I’m hoping the citizens of West Virginia will elect me as auditor and that we will set a high bar so that the next person who decides to run for state auditor will have a high bar to step up to.”
In an interview with HD Media, McCuskey touted his work with West Virginia Checkbook, a program that allows members of the public to access historical and current budget and other financial information from the state. McCuskey’s office, and the website, offers training on how to navigate the portal.
“We have made West Virginia the most transparent state in the United States,” McCuskey said. “We have the best portals for citizens to engage with the government to make sure they are able to have the same information that the bureaucrats in Charleston have.”
Claytor gave McCuskey kudos for West Virginia Checkbook, saying it was based on a similar program in Ohio and was in the right spirit of transparency.
However, she said if McCuskey truly wanted transparency in government, it would be more beneficial to use a program similar to that of the state of Washington’s Financial Intelligence Tool, which she said is more user-friendly and doesn’t require users to have an accounting degree or financial management experience to use it.
She also said West Virginians should be able to see the invoices for all of the state’s transactions, saying when the state puts any kind of program, like West Virginia Checkbook, to use, officials should be held accountable for the quality of the products they purchased.
“With my experience as a real auditor, I would take that same level of go-gettedness as the auditor,” Claytor said. “As the lead of the Auditor’s Office, I would use that same mindset in a sense that we have to make sure the product citizens are paying for, that what we are getting, it’s the best it can be.”
Claytor also wondered why McCuskey has emphasized his office’s effort to catch fraud after it happens, when he could be better focused on giving his office and county and municipal officials better tools to prevent fraud from happening in the first place.
“The first thing you see when you go on our website are the press releases from embezzlement,” Claytor said. “Is this a run for office or is this website for us to give the citizens the information they need?”
Claytor said training needs to be more accessible, particularly making it available online or even on flash drives or CDs, for county, municipal and other local public officials to help them better maintain their books under state law.
Claytor also said the Auditor’s Office has fallen behind on auditing counties on a regular basis — another proactive action to catch fraud before it happens.
“He’s taking more of a reactive approach,” Claytor said of McCuskey. “I would have invested more into the people doing the audits more than the people who would be doing the fraud.”
The Fraud Unit in the Auditor’s Office was launched in 2010, and McCuskey said it was already a good program that he was able to improve upon.
McCuskey has taken a data extraction and disbursement approach to fraud and accounting systems for local governments in West Virginia.
Project Mountaineer is in the pilot stage in at least 17 cities and towns using the software program that is meant to help municipal computer accounting systems communicate with the state’s accounting system to provide interactive financial reports and performance measurement.
McCuskey said the system created a more efficient accounting and auditing means for smaller governments that don’t have the staff or other resources to dedicate to their bookkeeping.
“All of the data will be coming in a way that is simple and unified,” McCuskey said. “More than that, we are creating a system by which we can analyze a city’s data and determine at what point, or if, they’re going to become insolvent. With that, we can either find a path forward to remain solvent, or if insolvency is the only option, we can do so in a way that is humane and helpful to the citizens.”