Sullivan goes on attack in auditor's race

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DORSET — The notion that the Democratic primary for State Auditor wouldn't get testy has been blown out of the water this week as challenger Linda Joy Sullivan launched an attack on incumbent Doug Hoffer, who responded in kind.

At the center of the controversy is a 71-page document Hoffer released June 30 which details his office's work on the Vermont All-Payer Accountable Care Organization Model, which operates OneCare Vermont.

Sullivan, of Dorset, issued a news release Monday accusing Hoffer of playing politics with the release of the document and timing it to the primary election.

"The optics of the State Auditor using his office to issue what is plainly a politically-timed report are just wrong," Sullivan said in a news release.

Hoffer's response? "It's ludicrous."

Sullivan said that the timing of the report, issued while voters were beginning to vote in the primary, was deeply disappointing.

"When you look at the timing of his campaign's statewide email blast to voters on June 30 — the very day his Office released the report — you can see the evidence of personal political gain from the release of the report," Sullivan said. "What's amazing to me is that the very constitutional officer who is supposed to be looking for waste, fraud and abuse in our Vermont government seems pretty clearly to be mobilizing the resources of his office to issue official reports politically advantageous to him."

Hoffer, when reached by phone Tuesday, said the release attacking him is just more negative campaigning from Sullivan.

"She's been very negative from the beginning," Hoffer said. "I don't think people respond well to negative."

He said he releases reports all the time and in 7 years he's sure it's happened before.

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"We release audit reports when they're done," Hoffer said. "Should an auditor not release a report because we're withing a month or two of an election? If you look back over my tenure, in the office, I'm certain there were times when we've released a report within a month or a two of an election. But, in 7 years no one — no one — has ever said what she's said. She's trying to make something out of nothing. That's unfortunate."

But beyond the optics, Sullivan also has an issue with Hoffer's work.

Sullivan's campaign manager Jim Salsgiver of Dorset said Sullivan has concerns with an audit that does nothing but describe the problem.

"He's been working on this thing for a year and a half," Salsgiver said. "He says here's how the ACO works and we should prove that it should work better. To spend hundreds of thousands of dollars that is a description of the program? To me, that's not a helpful recommendation."

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Salsgiver said it seems clear that Hoffer, who is not a CPA or auditor, doesn't understand the work his staff performs.

"Neither he nor his deputy are CPAs or auditors," Salsgiver said. "They're overseeing an office of CPAs and auditors. It's become more and more clear to me that we need an auditor in the state auditor's office."

Sullivan touts her credentials. She is a Certified Public Accountant and the founder of a Vermont-based public audit and consulting firm that is registered nationally by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. She holds an MBA and a Master's of Law in finance and international taxation.

In the document issued June 30, Hoffer refers to his report as a "descriptive audit," which is one of the things Sullivan took issue with.

"Before we began this work, I was concerned that neither policymakers nor members of the public fully understood how this complex project actually works," Hoffer wrote in a "Dear Colleagues letter in the document. "Therefore, we decided to begin a series of audits about this subject starting with a descriptive audit."

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But Sullivan said the work doesn't accomplish much and "does little more than describe known risk factors in the plan.

"The report does little more than describe known risk factors in the plan adopted during the last administration," Sullivan said in her news release. "This report principally questions Gov. Peter Shumlin's decision in 2016 to sign us up for what is a cutting edge healthcare payment reform experiment with our federal partners. The questions the current auditor posed last week about the model are the very same ones that existed back in 2016, which questions certainly could have been posed and answered by him in 2017, 2018 and 2019."

Hoffer sees Sullivan's attacks as desperation.

"Her email blasts contain lots of factual errors and misleading information," Hoffer said. "You'd hope someone running for auditor would get their facts straight."

But, he said he understands that negative campaigning can help the challenger.

"It's not uncommon for someone without statewide name recognition is to look for ways to get recognition through conflict," Hoffer said. "That's what's she's doing now. It says a lot about her quite frankly."

Sullivan is a state representative serving the towns of Dorset, Danby, Peru, Landgrove and Mount Tabor and is running for reelection to that seat along with the Auditor of Accounts position.

The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 11. Early voting is open now.

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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