CHARLESTON - Democratic legislative leaders won't back Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's call for more audits of the West Virginia Legislature, state office holders and agencies.
The Republican attorney general is urging lawmakers to undergo additional audits amid controversy over a $5 million state Department of Agriculture loan program. The U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating the program's alleged mismanagement of money.
"I find it outrageous that gross financial mismanagement in the Agriculture Department can be hidden for so many years," Morrisey said. "We need to put an end to fraud, waste, and abuse."
Morrisey, the state's only top Republican official, has focused on audits to find government corruption or waste since taking office in 2012. He started by combing through his own office, and set up a bidding process for contracting outside lawyers. His zeal to expand existing audit requirements outside his office has led to confrontations with Democratic leaders in the Legislature.
Morrisey wants a first round of audits to be completed by September. Regularly scheduled audits would follow.
Democratic Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Tim Miley questioned the need for more audits, citing additional staffing needs and costs. Morrisey has offered to put his department to work on the audits.
Testifying to a House committee Thursday, an attorney general representative said a bill helping whistleblowers would stretch the office thin.
"I will say that our attorneys are very busy, and to suggest that we have an overwhelming amount of available time I don't think is correct," said chief counsel Dan Greear.
Miley called Morrisey's audit expansion unfeasible, saying audits are already performed on a rotating basis and sometimes by request.
"That would certainly take additional manpower, and I thought (Morrisey) was against increasing the size of the government," said Miley, D-Harrison.
Miley said it's impossible to catch every wrongdoer in government. But a bill protecting and rewarding government whistleblowers could replace the need for additional audits, he said.
Kessler shut the door on the extra audits just as quickly.
"(Morrisey) needs to be the chief law enforcement officer, so to speak, of the state, not the chief auditor," said Kessler, D-Glen Dale. "No, I would not see any appetite in the Legislature to grant additional auditing power to the attorney general."
The audit discussion is unfolding amid a tussle between Miley and Morrisey over potential conflicts of interest. Morrisey is the first Republican attorney general in 80 years, and serves alongside a Democratic Legislature and five Democratic elected constitutional officers.
Miley has criticized Morrisey for ties to two pharmaceutical companies, Cardinal Health and Sanofi, that his office is suing over claims arising from profits they have taken in West Virginia. Former Attorney General Darrell McGraw filed the lawsuits in 2012 and Morrisey inherited them.
Morrisey said he recused himself from the cases because he lobbied for Sanofi and his wife lobbies for both companies.