Current state auditor campaigning for another term
By Jessie Burchette
State Auditor Leslie W. “Les” Merritt Jr. isn’t on the May primary ballot, but he’s already campaigning.
Merritt has begun his re-election campaign, making stops Friday through the Piedmont including Salisbury. He focuses on his accomplishments and the important role the State Auditor’s office has in watching over state and federal dollars.
He’s agreed to accept public financing under a pilot program available to three Council of State jobs ó Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Insurance Commissioner.
To qualify for the public financing, he must raise $30,000 from a minimum of 750 contributors.
During his stop in Salisbury on Friday, Merritt said starting up a campaign when he doesn’t have a primary opponent is a bit awkward.
Under the rules, Merritt won’t be able to accept any more donations after the primary on May 6.
Between now and May 6, he’ll be making campaign swings, spreading the word about his accomplishments and raising money.
His campaign card includes the image of a bulldog with the message, “The Taxpayer’s Watchdog.”
Merritt, a Republican, was elected in 2004 becoming the first certified public accountant to hold the office. Previously he was a partner in an accounting and auditing firm for 20 years.
Since taking office, Merritt has worked to change the culture in the auditor’s office.
Faced with a backlog of 126 investigative audits, Merritt increased the staff from three to seven.
The backlog is now down to 30 cases, a reduction of 76 percent.
Utilizing technology to the max, the office staff is now using computer software that can pick up behavorial patterns, find trends, or identify suspicious Social Security numbers.
Merritt said the State Auditor has a strong mandate to follow every state or federal dollar as it flows through various programs or agencies, either government or non-profit.
“Audits have consequences. Some people ended up losing their jobs,” Merritt said. And some are handed off to the State Bureau of Investigation.
Merritt considers the State Auditor’s post the most powerful on the Council of Government.
“If elected to a second term, I will focus on several key priorities: leveraging our recently-launched investigative task force to expose fraud, waste and abuse in state government; continuing to increase our emphasis on performance audits to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of state government; and continuing our efforts to transform the auditor’s office into a proactive agency that helps prevent problems rather than simply reporting them after the fact.”
In his first run in 2004, Merritt won a three-way GOP primary and then ousted Ralph Campbell, a three-term incumbent Democrat.
Merritt’s resumé also includes serving on the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
During his time as a commissioner, Merritt focused on efficiency, setting priorities and fiscal responsibility.
A native of Sampson County, he grew up on a farm. He graduated from Union High School and N.C. State University where he earned degrees in economics and accounting.
He and his wife, Cheryl, live in the Zebulon.