Joining the House Democratic caucus (minus Representative Shawn Bordeaux, who was excused) yesterday in opposing the repeal of Initiated Measure 22 were Republican Representatives Mike Stevens, Craig Tieszen, Jean Hunhoff, and David Lust. Thank you, Republicans and Democrats, for your respect for the will of the voters.
However, since Anti-Corruption Act-repealer House Bill 1069 is being shoved through the Legislature as fast as possible (Senate State Affairs railroads it this morning at 10 a.m.), defenders of IM22 should turn their attention to bills in the hopper that seek to salvage the good ideas we voters enacted in November, like the state ethics commission. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs is offering a campaign finance ethics commission in Senate Bill 53 (which was referred to Senate State Affairs fourteen days ago but has yet to be scheduled for its first hearing).
Democratic Representative Karen Soli now adds House Bill 1076, which would create a State Government Accountability Board. Apparently aware that the word “ethics” makes Republican leadership skittish, Representative Soli does not use the word “ethics” anywhere in HB 1076.
HB 1076 would empanel six people to review and investigate the following issues:
- Any contract, grant, or loan with any public entity that provides the authority to any other entity to expend public funds;
- Documents filed under chapter 3-23 or alleged violations relating to conflicts of interest;
- Allegations of a direct or indirect interest in a contract in violation of the constitution or law;
- Allegations of malfeasance in office by a constitutional officer, public official, or public employee;
- Misappropriation of public funds;
- Use of false instruments to obtain public funds;
- Theft or embezzlement of public funds;
- Bribery; or
- Use of public money not authorized by law in violation of the constitution [HB 1076, Section 3, filed 2016.01.23].
Item #2 on that list appears to overlap with the jurisdiction of the Board of Internal Control created last year by 2016 SB 162. That list does not appear to include campaign finance violations, which were an integral part of the duties of the IM22 ethics commission and are the sole purview SB 53’s more limited campaign finance ethics commission.
The HB 1076 Government Accountability Board would be able to hold hearings on “any corrupt act” that falls within the above nine criteria, subpoena witnesses, take sworn testimony, and, if a majority conclude violations have occurred, refer violations to the relevant state’s attorney or the Attorney General. The HB 1076 board does not have the teeth given to SB 53’s campaign finance board to impose fines and recommend decertification of candidates and removal from office of elected officials. Nor does HB 1076 have the authority of IM22’s ethics commission to pursue civil action against violators whom the Attorney General declines to prosecute.
HB 1076 would likely have an even split, 3–3, of Republicans and Democrats. The House Speaker, House minority leader, Senate pro-tem, and Senate minority leader each appoint one member; the Governor appoints two not of the same political party. (Yes, yes, the Governor could trick us and appoint his favorite Republican and an “independent.”) SB 53 would give us a six-member board, chaired by the Secretary of State, with four members chosen by the same Legislative leaders as HB 1076 provides and one member chosen by the Board of Elections, with no explicit restriction on party affiliation. IM 22 sought a five-member board appointed by the Governor from lists of nominees provided by Legislative leaders and the presidents of SDSU and USD, with no more than two from the same political party.
HB 1076 attaches the Government Accountability Board to the Attorney General’s office and specifies the Extraordinary Litigation Fund as a source of funding.
One may jump to the conclusion that, since a Democrat is initiating this effort, just like IM22, Republicans are sure to fight it. However, along with her Democratic co-sponsors (Representatives Bartling, Hawley, and Wismer; Senators Frerichs, Heinert, and Sutton), Representative Soli has enlisted Republican Speaker Mickelson, House Majority Leader Qualm, House Assistant Majority Leader Peterson, and Senate Pro-Tem Greenfield to sponsor the bill. Republican Senator Greenfield is even the prime sponsor in the Senate. Hmm… maybe Brock meant what he said last November about reaching beyond partisanship and “respect[ing] the judgment of my fellow South Dakotans.”
If that bipartisan sponsorship signals HB 1076 is the preferred vehicle for discussing the creation of an ethics commission, then I would suggest merging HB 1076 with SB 53, with a sprinkling of IM 22. Write in campaign finance audits and enforcement from SB 53, and consider either IM 22’s odd number or, if Republicans won’t throw an executive branch authority flag, an appointment or two based on recommendations from experts outside of Pierre.