AUGUSTA, Maine — Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has no background in finance, much less the formal qualifications to work as an accountant or auditor. But he’s still put himself in the running to serve as Maine’s next state auditor.
The Legislature’s Democratic and Republican caucuses will nominate their candidates Tuesday for state auditor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general. Dunlap, who is termed out as secretary of state after serving four, two-year terms, is the Democrats’ sole candidate for state auditor, whose office is responsible for, among other things, making sure the state follows sometimes incricate requirements when it spends federal money.
The full Legislature will vote to fill those four positions on Wednesday. With Democrats in control of both chambers, their nominees are likely to succeed, meaning Dunlap is all but assured to replace Pola Buckley, who is termed out after serving two, four-year terms as state auditor.
For Dunlap, it wouldn’t be the first time he has been elected to a job he is “utterly unqualified for,” he said Monday. He had no experience overseeing elections or the Bureau of Motor Vehicles when he first ran for secretary of state in 2004.
“The law anticipates the Legislature electing someone like me, and that’s why you’re given a period of time to make qualifications,” he said.
The state auditor must be qualified to work as a certified public accountant, certified information systems auditor or certified internal auditor, or have passed the licensure exams for those positions, according to state law. But the law also gives someone without those qualifications nine months to earn them after being elected to the job, and it’s not unprecedented for the person elected as state auditor to earn the necessary qualifications on the job.
Dunlap said he plans to pursue the certified internal auditor route. He hasn’t started the process yet — “I have to get elected first,” he said — but he said he’s confident he could meet the requirements in nine months.
As for his qualifications to serve as state auditor, Dunlap said he could “run an office in his sleep” and presented himself as a jack-of-all-trades able to adapt to the job presented to him.
Dunlap has had a historic tenure as secretary of state, overseeing the implementation of ranked-choice voting and making waves nationally when he challenged President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission after the 2016 election. A former state representative from Old Town, he unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012.
He has the support of Buckley, who said Dunlap is qualified based on his “integrity, knowledge and commitment to public service,” provided he passes the internal auditor exam. She also noted the department’s senior staff is “extremely qualified” and would complement Dunlap’s leadership skills.
Some pathways to getting qualified are less demanding than others.
To take the exam to become a certified public accountant, for example, someone must intend to complete a bachelor’s or higher degree within 120 days of taking the test. The person must have at least 15 hours of credits in specific financial disciplines such as taxation or accounting research, according to the Maine Board of Accountancy. It would take “just shy of a miracle” for Dunlap to satisfy those requirements in under nine months and take the exam, said Michael Nickerson, the board’s complaint officer.
Dunlap has a bachelor’s degree in Roman history and a master’s in English literature from the University of Maine.
The internal auditing route is less demanding. Taking that two-day test requires photo identification, a character reference and any bachelor’s degree, according to a spokesperson for The Institute of Internal Auditors, the international organization that sets internal auditing certification standards and offers a global certification exam. The test can be taken in three parts and in whatever order a person wants.
Gail Chase, who served two terms as auditor after being sworn in 1997, became qualified for the job by taking the internal auditor exam. She said the exam was “rigorous,” but she had hands-on experience from working in the state auditor’s office for years prior to taking the test.
Running for the post without the qualifications made her nervous, she said, because failing the test would have felt “as though I let down the Legislature” after being elected. But she was confident Dunlap would rise to the occasion, saying he had done a good job in the secretary of state’s office.