Representative Larry Rhoden adds Ethics Lite to the mix of legislative proposals competing to tell South Dakota voters how they should have done ethics reform. House Bill 1089, sponsored exclusively by Republicans, creates no new ethics panel but assigns new investigative and enforcement powers to mostly partisan entities.
Section 1 of HB 1089 authorizes the Secretary of State to impose an addition up-to-$500 fine on folks who violate campaign finance law. (The Koch Brothers, who poured at least $627,000 into campaigning against IM22, would consider $500 shrinkage.)
Section 2 makes clear that any interested person may file a complaint with the Secretary of State alleging campaign finance violations. Upon receiving such a complaint, the SOS shall investigate and may seek civil penalties in court or refer the complaint to the Division of Criminal Investigation.
Section 3 makes clear that any person may file a complaint with DCI about fraud by public officials, bribery of public officials, or violations of the lobbyist gift ban (what? we can’t file such complaints already?).
Section 4 says that if DCI doesn’t find a prosecutable criminal case in a Section 3 complaint, it may (may? not shall?) refer evidence of lesser wrongdoing by executive branch officials to the State Board of Internal Control (which consists mostly of members of the executive branch) and wrongdoing by legislators and legislative employees to the Government Operations and Audit Committee (which consists entirely of legislators).
Unlike the bipartisan-sponsored HB 1076 and IM 22, whose repeal HB 1089 is meant to excuse, Rep. Rhoden’s proposal makes no effort to minimize partisan influence in the entities investigating unethical conduct. Section 4 makes clear that Rep. Rhoden and his co-sponsors maintain that the Legislature can police itself, even though the Wollmann sex scandal strongly suggests the contrary.
HB 1089 embodies the SDGOP rejection of the voters’ conclusion that we need to do something new to check corruption in Pierre. I’d say ditch this bill, and if we can’t salvage IM 22, focus on merging the Government Accountability Board of HB 1076 with the Campaign Finance Ethics Commission of SB 53.
Related Legislation: Bob Mercer notes that six Republicans and two Democrats, led by Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City), are sponsoring Senate Concurrent Resolution 8, calling on the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor “to prosecute, both civilly and criminally, all losses that the South Dakota taxpayers have sustained as a result” of the EB-5 and GEAR UP scandals.