If Rep. Mark Mickelson were serious about tackling corruption, he’d look at his seatmates and say, “Hey, fellas, really?” Jonathan Ellis finds three Republican legislators—Senator R. Blake Curd of Sioux Falls, Senator Alan Solano of Rapid City, and Rep. Fred Romkema of Spearfish—who appear to be holding their seats and private-sector jobs with interests in state contracts, in violation of Article 3, Section 12 of the South Dakota Constitution.
Notice that two of these legislators were appointed to their seats by Governor Dennis Daugaard.
Senator Curd owns Sioux Falls Specialty Hospital, which got a contract with the state in 2014, the same year Curd turned his gubernatorial favor into an election victory. Senator Curd says he’s not violating the Constitution; the state Supreme Court would say Senator Curd is wrong:
“I was not involved in the negotiations of this contract,” he said. “I am not sure of the exact time frame of these negotiations, but it was well before I became the CEO and possibly before I was appointed as a state senator. The contract was never enforced to the benefit of the hospital for a variety of reasons.”
He added that the contract was negotiated by the Bureau of Personnel and was never explicitly authorized by the Legislature.
But funding for the contract was included in the general appropriations bill enacted by the Legislature, and the South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that contracts funded from the general appropriations bill still constitute a conflict [Jonathan Ellis, “Lawmakers Flirt with Prohibition on Conflicts,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.01.11].
Attorney General Marty Jackley says he has no business enforcing that prohibition, since Article 3 Section 9 says it’s up to each chamber of the Legislature to decide whether members are qualified to serve or not. AG Jackley’s demurral smells of political convenience: in 2001, when Republican rookie Carol Pitts held a House seat and worked for SDSU Extension, Republican Attorney General Mark Barnett decided her qualification for office was his business, secured a state Supreme Court ruling holding up her state paycheck, charged Pitts with the same conflict when a food service company she worked for got a state contract, and ultimately forced Pitts to resign. Has AG Jackley forgotten precedent, or does he just not want to take on two of the Governor’s favorites and powerful veteran legislator Romkema?
Rep. Mickelson exempted legislators from his tepid Benda-Bollen bill last year on the claim that current law was enough to prevent legislators from engaging in conflicts of interest. Rep. Mickelson was apparently wrong.