Auditor Harmon’s Raw Data Drops: Self-Promotion, Transparency, or Both?

A new trend started under Auditor Mike Harmon, R-Kentucky, has sped up the dissemination of data to the general public, and in doing so the Auditor of Public Accounts has increased his time in the media cycle.

Last week Harmon released a “data bulletin” listing how the state spent COVID relief funds, but the release of the data is not an investigation, audit of the funds, or even a review of the data by the Auditor’s Office – it’s simply passing over figures from the Office of State Budget Director (OSBD) to the general public.

The Auditor himself acknowledges as much in the most recent press release announcing the money spent by the state.

“Our data bulletin is not an audit, but rather serves as a way to gather information related to the spending of public dollars and present it to Kentuckians as part of my office’s goal of making all levels of government more transparent and accountable to taxpayers,” said Auditor Harmon in a press release last week. “The funds will also be subject to an audit, but due to a high level of public interest, we wanted to present the data in a way that was accessible and easier for people to understand.”

In releasing the state spending, Harmon then proceeded to conduct numerous interviews with news outlets from around the state promoting the release of the funds. In one interview with WDRB-TV, Harmon effectively said he’s concerned about how the money was spent.

Full audits take time, and in releasing the information now Harmon gets the media spike ahead of what many expect to be an announcement for governor in the coming months. Currently, there are no Republicans who have announced they’re running for governor in 2023, but several, including Harmon, remain in the headlines.

How Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, ran the state, expended funds, dealt with job losses is expected to be a top-line issue in the 2023 gubernatorial race.

In a statement, Harmon said it’s important to have a full review of the COVID funds.

“While the data our auditors compiled does give the public a view into how our Commonwealth reported spending coronavirus relief funds, my office will continue to ask questions and do our part to independently audit these funds,” Auditor Harmon said.  “It is particularly important to have an independent review of these expenditures because the funds were not appropriated by the General Assembly through the normal budgetary process.”

The entire data bulletin, “An Examination of Coronavirus Relief Funds Allocated to Kentucky,” is available here.