One of California’s highest ranking positions is on the November ballot.
It’s not the Governor’s office or a seat in congress — although those jobs are on the docket as well — it’s the California Controller.
So what exactly is the California Controller and what do they do?
The controller is like the state’s head accountant, according to the political nonprofit CalMatters.
They are in charge of paying out the state’s public funds. As CalMatters puts it, the California Controller “writes the checks for state government – about 49 million a year for employee pay, retiree payments, Medi-Cal, personal income tax refunds, and payments to vendors.”
They are also in charge of auditing state agencies to make sure they are spending their money appropriately, looking out for fraud, and serving on boards and commissions to ensure the state’s money is being used properly.
The controller also plays a role in safeguarding unclaimed property, like old bank accounts and deposit boxes, or unpaid wages and uncashed checks.
Currently, the state’s controller is Democrat Betty Yee who has held the position since 2015. Due to term limits, Yee’s tenure is coming to an end and voters are now tasked with electing her replacement.
Two challengers are looking to replace Yee; one a Republican who had an impressive victory in the June primary, and a Democrat who has picked up some key endorsements by some of California’s heavy-hitters.
Lanhee Chen, a fiscal advisor who worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012, is the Republican on the ballot. Despite running in a deep blue state like California, his party affiliation hasn’t hurt him. In fact, the Los Angeles Times endorsed him in part because he is a member of the GOP.
Republicans view the controller race as a winnable one; a win that could represent a changing of the guard in California that would be one of the biggest statewide pickups for the GOP in more than a decade.
Chen told CalMatters that he has a plan for tracking down fraud in California and says it requires precision.
“In EDD (California Employment Development Department), we know there was fraud and we know what the amount roughly is,” Chen said. “Waste is a little tougher to quantify, because one person’s waste is another person’s treasure.”
Chen also said he does not support a wealth tax or any new taxes on California’s highest earners.
“I believe if you look at our tax collections have increased year over year over the last several years, California has the revenue it needs to be a successful and good, compassionate state,” he wrote. He also questioned if a wealth tax could stand up to constitutional scrutiny.
Chen’s opponent is Democrat Malia Cohen. Cohen is the chair of the California State Board of Equalization.
Cohen has been endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Karen Bass, who is running for Los Angeles mayor. She took home about 21.5% of the votes in the June primary.
Cohen also pointed at the EDD as a possible source of fraud that will require a deep dive to fully understand. She also raised concerns about how money was being spent in corrections and fighting homelessness.
“I’d like to know if we’re spending good money. Are we throwing good money after bad,” she told CalMatters.
Cohen added that the state needs more legislative hearings and audits, the results of which she said she would make public.
As far as a wealth tax on the highest earners, Cohen said she would listen to the will of the people.
“I have supported a wealth tax in the past, particularly coming out of San Francisco. and that wealth tax was more geared and centered around property,” Cohen said. “Voters passed an initiative that I was supportive of.”
More than $9 million has been invested into the race for the controller’s office, according to CalMatters.
Chen has raised about $4.8 million while Cohen has fundraised about $2.7 million.
To learn more about the two candidates hoping to be California’s next controller, and to take a test to see whose ideals align the closest with your own, visit the CalMatters California Controller information page.
The upcoming election will take place on Nov. 8. Ballots have already gone out to Californians and can be mailed back for counting immediately.