We started this website to cover news that others weren’t (or won’t). To ask questions of those who’ve been getting a free pass.
So let’s talk about Rob Sand, Iowa’s new auditor.
Since becoming our state’s head CPA (even though he isn’t a CPA), Sand has been the darling of Iowa’s media and #iapolitics twitter. Most fawn over him; some roll their eyes at him; a few ignore him. But no one presses him. No one.
The closest thing Sand has seen to critical coverage is Sydney Ember’s New York Times profile that (intentional or not) reads like an Onion parody of a self-absorbed kid who has been dreaming of running for president since he was twelve and uses every opportunity—and every person—to further that goal. The lede says it all: “When I asked Rob Sand, the Iowa state auditor if he could recommend fascinating Iowans to profile, he suggested himself.”
Ember goes on to tell us that Sand “likes to tell people about how he turned down Harvard Law School”—an icebreaker I’m sure his Iowa law school classmates loved—and that Sand “does not like to talk about how he briefly modeled in Paris and Milan when he was in college.” Hmmmmm. He doesn’t like to talk about it, yet Ember was well aware of it. Sure, Rob. Sure.
Here’s some of that modeling work Sand tells people about, right before he tells them he doesn’t like to talk about it:
One more amusing tidbit from Ember’s piece: “He credits his victory in 2018 with his ability to raise a ton of money—more than $1.7 million—a significant portion of which came from his wife’s wealthy, Republican family.”
Let’s dissect that sentence. That last clause negates the very point that Sand was apparently making to Ember: that he’s a good fundraiser.
What’s more likely? That Sand was gloating to Ember about how his wife and in-laws wrote him big checks, or that Sand was bragging about his fundraising ability and Ember, through her own research, discovered that Sand’s campaign contributions had less to do with his ability and more to do with his marriage?
Let’s assume it was the latter. Let’s assume that Ember didn’t take Sand’s spin at face value. If that’s the case, then bravo to her, because no one in Iowa seems interested questioning a word Sand says.
Case in point: This summer, Sand, the auditor of the state, called a press conference to pontificate on how it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to move the Des Moines federal courthouse across the river to a new site. One might question what the state auditor actually knows about the finances of the federal courts, but not Iowa’s press corps. What Sand says, they print.
Sand said that the old building is “beautiful” and a “perfectly good space.” That was about the beginning and end of his substance, and it was enough for Iowa’s reporters to think it newsworthy.
But the only newsworthy thing about Sand’s press conference was that he had it at all—and that anyone showed up.
The federal courthouse is moving, in part, because it’s too small. As explained by Chief Judge John Jarvey, they’re “significantly out of space” in the current courthouse, so they are forced to pay “massive rent” to rent an “annex building” next door.
How massive, you’re asking? It’s huuuge: $3.2 million per year for a building that, without the courts, is only worth $10.7 million.
Those are pretty important facts one should know if they’re going to weigh in on the courthouse move. But Sand, who months earlier had barked about the Iowa Finance Authority’s significantly cheaper lease, said nothing of it.
Could it be that Sand, the state auditor, didn’t have a clue what he was talking about? That he was just trying to get his name in the paper and the press obliged?
Maybe. And it wouldn’t be surprising.
But Sand is a lawyer and likely familiar with the federal courthouse and its use of the annex. So maybe there’s another explanation.
The annex building is owned by John and Justin Mandelbaum (father and son) who gave Sand $7,750 during his 2018 campaign. Combined, that means the Mandelbaums were Sand’s sixth-largest donors who aren’t named Laurdisen or Sand.
If the courthouse moves (which wasn’t a given then but is now), then the Mandelbaums will lose their sweetheart lease. Why not turn to their dear friend, Auditor Rob Sand.
Which is it:
(a) Rob Sand trashed the new federal courthouse without knowing the facts because he saw a cheap opportunity to get into the news, or
(b) Rob Sand was using the reputation of the State Auditor’s Office to do the bidding of his wealthy donors?
Neither is good. And yet that’s the only thing that should have come from Sand’s press conference.