But this was hardly the first time. Several marriages have resulted in the past few decades from affairs involving legislators that occurred during legislative sessions. There was the ugly investigation involving a senator and a page a decade ago.
It took Nelson to finally get a straightforward ban in black and white. Admire him or detest him, he isn’t one to let something go.
He spent more than 20 years in military law enforcement. He is a U.S. Marine to his core and is proud of it.
In a Session where the Legislature exerted itself to whitewash its repeal of Initiated Measure 22 by creating the appearance of bipartisan concord on the need for ethics reforms, Senator Nelson still had to drag his colleagues to embrace banning what too many in Pierre have apparently viewed as a perk of serving in the Capitol. And Senator Novstrup’s final vote for that ban, lodged among several other rules, leaves us wondering if Novstrup really changed his mind from his three previous votes against banning sex with interns.
Perhaps sensing that this embarrassment may make legislators more persuadable, Senator Nelson is proposing a far tougher rule that not only makes explicit the seemingly obvious notion that legislators shouldn’t boink the help but also dictates reporting and punishment:
1B-3.1 Sexual contact prohibited. No legislator or legislative employee may have sexual contact with any legislative intern or page, and no legislative intern may have sexual contact with a page. Any violation shall be reported within 24 hours of violation or knowledge, as follows:
For a member of the Senate, a written report to the Senate President Pro Tempore, Majority Leader, & Minority Leader;
For a member of the House of Representatives, a written report to the Speaker, Majority Leader, & Minority Leader;
For a Legislative Research Council employee, a written report to the Director of the Legislative Research Council and the Executive Committee of the Executive Board;
For an employee or legislative intern of the Senate, a written report to the Senate President ProTempore, Majority Leader, & Minority Leader, and the Director of the Legislative Research Council; and
For an employee or legislative intern of the House of Representatives, a written report to the Speaker, Majority Leader, & Minority Leader, and the Director of the Legislative Research Council.
If a select committee on discipline and expulsion determines a member violated this section, it shall recommend expulsion of the member in its committee report and the intern or page shall be dismissed from service [Senator Stace Nelson, proposed rule change, obtained by Dakota Free Press 2017.01.26].
Senator Nelson has dropped the spouse/fiancé exception he included earlier as a favor to happily engaged Wollmann and his intern fiancée (not to mention a concession to pre-martial fornication, remarkable for a family-values Christian conservative like Nelson). Nelson’s rule additionally clarifies that interns shall also keep their hands and other parts off the pages. Nelson’s rule now mandates that anyone who finds out about such sexual contact notify specific Legislative leaders within 24 hours. Nelson would strip the committee investigating violations of any leeway in recommended punishment: expulsion is the sole punishment for legislators. Nelson also wants interns and pages involved in sexual contact dismissed.
Legislators may balk requiring such a strict reporting deadline and at tying the investigating committee’s hands in recommending punishment. The intern/page-dismissal clause is also unclear: I can see dismissing any legislator or intern who boinks down the chain of command. I can see dismissing anyone—legislator, intern, or page—who freely consents to such unethical conduct. But should an intern or page subjected to unwanted sexual contact be dismissed? That’s how Nelson’s draft rule reads now, and that seems unfair.
Nonetheless, if Joint Legislative Procedure takes up this rule, we will witness an interesting test of ethics, personalities, and power. Mainstream Republicans hated Nelson before this Session. Some GOP leaders probably hate him more for blowing the whistle on their apparent effort to cover up Wollmann’s misconduct. Some Democrats may even be torqued at Nelson for pressing this issue and distracting us from other important policy battles. During Nelson’s previous terms in the House, legislators reveled in opportunities to kill Nelson’s bills.
I am glad Senator Nelson is willing to fight for the obvious recognition that the State Capitol is no place for sex. Now if I can just get him to recognize that the State Capitol is no place for guns….
Folks who think that action ended the South Dakota Legislature’s sex scandal should tune in to The Greg Belfrage Show on KELO Radio tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 8:05 a.m., when Belfrage will interview Senator Stace Nelson about who knew what when.
For the attention of the AG and for the record with House leadership, the following information is provided as written documentation of information already passed to several of you in person which I received from former interns who served in the House in 2015.
Two former interns reported the suspect legislator in fact knowingly gave alcoholic beverages to a known minor in 2015 on at least one occasion. One intern reported that he allegedly engaged in kissing and fondling of an intern, allegedly in front of at least one other, who was so intoxicated the intern opined the young intern may not have been sober enough to consent to the contact. To be clear, interns identified 2 interns he (the legislator) had consensual sexual intercourse with in 2015, another different one he groped while she was extremely intoxicated, and another one that he sexually harassed and outraged when he was caught trying to “get with” multiple pages. The interns indicated he was texting them constantly through out (sic) the day trying to “get with” the female interns.
Several House leadership members confirmed that written complaints were received by House leadership members, last year, allegedly alluding to the sexual contact with interns and pages , (sic) and when the one intern was extremely intoxicated. . . [Senator Stace Nelson, e-mail to Legislative leaders, Attorney General Marty Jackley, and LRC Director Jason Hancock, 2017.01.19; in Todd Epp, “Legislators Likely Knew in 2015 That a Member Was Having Sex with Interns,” KELO.com, 2017.01.24].
Just after Wollmann’s announcement, KSFY News spoke with Former House Speaker, Dean Wink, who had been out of state for the last week. Wink told KSFY News reporter Erika Leigh that he became aware of Wollmann’s relationships with interns back in 2015, after receiving an unsigned letter that appeared to have come from an intern.
Wink says he confronted Wollmann then, but the former legislator denied the allegations. The former House Speaker said he believed him, despite the whispers that resurfaced again near the end of the 2016 session.
“I asked Rep. Wollmann to come to my office and discuss the content of the letter, and [we] agreed that dating interns is completely inappropriate and out of bounds for all the obvious reasons,” Wink explained.
Reporter(s) stated they have been working on this for an extended period of time based off of complaints they received last year which they discussed with leadership (NFI). TV news reporter explicitly told me to relay to a legislator whom she believed made a misstatement of fact in describing the timeframe he became aware of this misconduct, that the suspect legislator of this misconduct “lied” when confronted, and only confessed to (limited aspects) the misconduct when she advised him that she was in possession of a taped interview with a former intern. It is my understanding that interview is extensive, confirms everything contained herein, and much more [Senator Stace Nelson, e-mail to Legislature and A.G. Jackley, 2017.01.20].
Wollmann’s lie, followed by his fatuous observation about his experience in film-making, already cast his confession in a bad light. If the information about the taped intern interview is true, then it appears all the clearer that Wollmann was ready to keep lying, as former Speaker Dean Wink claims Wollmann did when confronted about accusations of sexual misconduct in 2015, until faced with the cold hard fact that someone had finally spoken up to stop him.
Finally, correspondence between Senator Nelson and House Speaker G. Mark Mickelson indicate the nature of the deeper scandal here, the possibility that Republican leaders did not adhere to their own rules in handling Wollmann’s misconduct. Senator Nelson apparently shared accusations about Wollmann’s misconduct with Speaker Mickelson prior to the airing of Wollmann’s confession on KSFY. Speaker Mickelson responded with this letter on Tuesday, January 17, the day before the Wollmann story went public:
Senator Nelson responded by e-mail Wednesday morning, seven hours before KSFY posted the Wollmann story:
I am in receipt of your request which runs directly contrary to the explicit provisions of the Joint Rules of the SD Legislature. I am forwarding you LRC’s official response of how these allegations were supposed to be handled when they were first brought forward to House leadership over the last two years, and how they must be followed now.
It greatly concerns me that you are purposely inserting yourself into a situation in which you have such an obvious conflict of interest which would clearly require you to recuse yourself.
#1 Legislative rules required all legislators aware of this misconduct to report it. Reports from legislators expressly indicate that leadership received timely complaints over the last two years, and did not follow the Joint Rules in handling the complaints that they received. In doing so, they themselves violated the ethical standards and requirements of our legislative rules.
Your request is duly inappropriate in that it violates the due process rights of the accused explicit in the requirements of our Joint Rules; it inappropriately attempts to assume authorities not granted you by statutes or rules and it clearly subverts the authority of your fellow House members who collectively share the responsibility to investigate this reported misconduct under the Joint Rules of the SD Legislature; AND, it violates the due process rights of the victims of this misconduct who deserve(d) to have this misconduct thoroughly and impartially addressed in a timely fashion required under our Joint Rules.
…In closing, I have been told by more than one person that House leadership stated that Nelson made all of this up and brought the rules change as a vendetta to harass the suspect legislator and his fiancé. That comment, in light of the above information, convinces me that this is an extension of the efforts to cover this matter up and protect the legislator your own colleagues have called a “sexual predator” [link added; Senator Stace Nelson, e-mail to Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, 2017.01.18].
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm brought his motion that afternoon to convene a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion. Speaker Mickelson named the nine members of the committee the next day.
In another case of not knowing how to say what needs to be said and then shut up, the disgraced legislator couldn’t simply apologize and leave. Instead, he expanded what could have been a 100-word letter into a 400-word fluffball that concludes with his declaration of intent to run for Legislature again.
Here is the text of Wollmann’s letter of resignation, submitted to Speaker of the House G. Mark Mickelson and made public this morning. I bold the necessary text and italicize the phrases that a guy whose sexual promiscuity got him into this jam ought not say:
Speaker G. Mark Mickelson,
I want to take this moment to write to you personally and share with you some important thoughts and news. I cannot express enough how fortunate it has been to serve South Dakota in the House of Representatives these past two years. It was also a magnificent honor to be re-elected this past November. I have built friendships with countless individuals from across the state, and have had the privilege to truly see the greatest South Dakota has to offer, and what we can improve on.
But no matter what successes a man or woman achieves, it is their failures that they remember the most. Human beings unlike any other animal on this planet are constantly reminded of their shortcomings, and pay for them two-fold. I do not condone what I have done. I have embarrassed this institution that I care so deeply for, my party, my family, my friends, and myself.
This past weekend I have put much thought into what these coming weeks would entail. I know that we as a legislative body have again many important decisions to make. Countless hours of consideration and caution will go into these determinations. I also know that although I feel extraordinarily better for coming forward and telling what is the absolute truth of the matter, that the trust of the people isn’t with me one-hundred percent as I wish it was, and that my thoughts and energy are not directed immediately to those important issues. I am without the focus I desire.
It is with a heavy heart, that I have decided that in the best interests of this body, this institution, and my constituents, that effective immediately Monday January 23rd 2017, I resign as a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives.
I have nothing but the greatest respect for those that I have grown so close to these past two years, and even in these early days of the 92nd legislative session. Those that read this should know that it is my wrongdoing that has put this institution in a sour light. Those responsible for me have displayed nothing but the highest honor for this establishment.
Again, I cannot express deeply enough how regretful I am of my actions.I hope to someday regain your trust and to return to this honorable body a man of greater knowledge.
I’m not going to spend all day revising Wollmann’s puffy verbage, simply because it takes me ten seconds to figure out all he really needed to say:
I screwed up. I screwed subordinates. That’s wrong. I’m sorry. I resign.
Everything else is superfluous at best, tone-deaf and self-serving at worst. Is the moment a legislator declares (he declares, so let’s drop any talk about “allegations”) he is ethically unfit to serve in public office is really the moment for him to ask us to elect him to public office again someday?
Wollmann says he has “nothing but the greatest respect” for those he has “grown close to” over the last two years… but the greatest respect, as preached by his fellow conservative, “family values” Republicans, would have meant not having sex with any of those people, not to mention more than one of those people, until he married them. I don’t have to wade that far into the theocracy to conclude that the “greatest respect” for the Legislature means not violating the Legislature’s rules of conduct by seeking sex from multiple members of the least empowered class of employees in the Legislature.
In response, Speaker Mickelson, Majority Leader Lee Qualm, and Minority Leader Spencer Hawley issued this press release:
State Representative Mathew Wollman tendered his resignation from the South Dakota House of Representatives today. He decided this was best for him, his fiancé, his family and the young ladies involved.
The South Dakota State Legislature, like any other organization, is comprised of human beings. Consequently, we will experience human failure and imperfection. Every legislator has an obligation to refrain from behavior unbecoming to the Legislature and inconsistent with maintaining the public’s trust.
We will be meeting over the coming weeks with legislators, current interns and legislative staff to discuss any improvements we can make in the legislator and employee training concerning appropriate standards of conduct and the proper reporting of potential violations of these standards of conduct as well as any recommended updates to our legislative rules.
To all our past, current and future interns:
Your service is appreciated. Our doors, phones and emails are always open for any thoughts or concerns you may have [South Dakota House Leadership, press release, posted by KSFY, 2017.01.23].
This press release reminds us that Wollmann’s conduct involved multiple interns (all female, apparently). It implies that Wollmann really did violate the Joint Rules listed in the letter inviting testimony before the House Select Committee named to investigate Wollmann.
Wollmann’s resignation renders the House Select Committee’s initial mission moot: Wollmann is not a legislator, so he’s no longer subject to their rules or punishment. That may actually be a productive mooting, since now it clears the decks for the Legislature to investigate the bigger question of who among Legislative leaders knew what when about Wollmann’s misconduct. Senate Pro-Tem Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) has said he reported concerns about Wollmann’s behavior to House Speaker Dean Wink in 2015. An intern has told the press that Wollmann’s sexual misconduct was common knowledge during his two-year term. If House leaders knew about Wollmann’s sexual misconduct and took no action during 2015 or 2016, they have done more to damage public trust in the Legislature by closing their eyes than Wollmann did by unzipping his pants.
Director Hancock notes that the committee may require witnesses to testify under oath and must give Representative Wollmann “the opportunity to confront and to question witnesses called by the committee.”
Legislative interns have unavoidable career interests which they hope to advance through their internship. Politicians in Pierre clearly recognize interns as their party’s farm team and look for talent to groom for jobs in Pierre, candidacies, or other leadership opportunities. This relationship is exactly why Representative Wollmann’s misconduct is not just young buckery but a pattern of predatory behavior that took advantage of his position of power. The interns’ aspirations are also why interns have thus far hesitated to come forward in a public forum to call out Rep. Wollmann’s misconduct, as they know Wollmann’s allies may well punish them politically for challenging both a rising party member and political leaders who apparently did not take action to stop that party member’s misconduct.
Recognizing that terribly uncomfortable position, Director Hancock writes that committee chairman Rep. Timothy Johns, a respected former circuit court judge, does not intend to require anyone to testify who does not want to take that risk. Hancock says Chairman Johns also intends “to keep the names of any interns that may have had sexual contact with Rep. Wollmann from appearing in any public forum or record, if they do not wish to testify.”
But if enough interns do speak up, if they stake their claims in public, perhaps they can use the publicity of the hearing to insulate themselves from retribution. And if some Republicans do try to stick with Wollmann and punish those who have brought out the uncomfortable facts about his misconduct and the leadership’s moral laxity, they may find themselves in a minority, against a coalition of Republicans and Democrats with conscience, and no longer in a position of power from which to issue retribution for decency or rewards for silence.
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm says he called for an investigation of fellow Republican Representative Mathew Wollmann’s sexual misconduct after Wollmann brought the matter to his attention “in recent days“:
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm said on the House floor that Wollmann told him he had consensual sexual contact with an intern in 2015 and 2016.
…Wollmann said he decided to come forward after he was approached Tuesday by a television station and asked about the situation. Qualm said Wollmann discussed the issue with him and in the House Republican caucus.
But leadership may have known about Wollmann’s troubles well before Wollmann’s confession and the media eruption therearound. Senator Stace Nelson has released to the press an e-mail that he sent to the Legislative Research Council on November 25, 2016, inquiring about sexually predatory conduct by a sitting legislator:
#1 Are there still positions open? Was the notice sent out to all our schools?
#2 I am concerned about reports that a sitting legislator has been sexually preying on page/interns. It was my understanding that such misconduct was an explicit violation of legislator ethical Conduct. What has been done to rectify this disgraceful misconduct and what are the liabilities for SD and legislators for these past acts? For future violations?
S. Nelson [released to the press by Senator Stace Nelson, 2017.01.19]
Senator Nelson refers to “reports,” plural, indicating he had heard about sexual misconduct in the Legislature from multiple sources. Yet even with this information circulating about violations of the Joint Rules on ethical conduct and sexual harassment, House leaders seated Representative Wollmann in on January 10.
We may imagine a few logical scenarios:
Neither the rumors nor Senator Nelson’s e-mail to LRC reached Majority Leader Qualm or the rest of leadership, and they really knew nothing of Representative Wollmann’s improper conduct until after seating him.
Qualm and leadership heard about Wollmann’s improper conduct, received his assurances that his predatory days were over, and decided to seat Wollmann without pursuing any formal investigation or action under the rules. (Side note: was Wollmann’s December 22 proposal to his fiancée at the Capitol a shotgun engagement pushed by GOP leadership to prove he was off the market and thus not a threat to 2017’s interns and pages?)
Qualm and leadership ignored the rumors and the rules and took no action to protect young legislative staff from further sexual predations.
This committee must decide the proper punishment for Wollmann, but it has an even more important obligation to determine who knew what when and whether Legislative leadership properly acted on information of improper conduct and enforced its rules to protect young staffers from abuses of power.
Update 07:38 CST: KELO Radio’s Todd Epp says Senator Nelson’s November 25, 2016, e-mail to LRC may signal that the Fulton Senator has the “smoking gun” in this Legislative sex scandal.
They were what I would say is long standing friendships that maybe turned into more. I could pick up the phone today and still call these individuals and have a good conversation and really there’s no question in my mind that I didn’t hurt them. No question in mind that I didn’t hurt them….
There are many that would think, “I don’t care what Mathew Wollman does at the age of 24 and 25 with consenting adults. That he could be sitting in a college class with,” but then there are others, that say, “Rules are rules and legislators are held at a different standard,” and I understand both… [Rep. Mathew Wollmann, in Leland Steva, “SD Lawmaker Talks About Having Sexual Relationships with Interns,” KELO-TV, 2017.01.18].
As neither a lawyer nor a public relations consultant, I say, Good grief, Mat!Pick a lane… and stop talking about yourself in the third person. You don’t have a strong enough hand to play moral arbiter and pretend to speak in the voice of “many” who think young legislators get to boink interns but older ones don’t. You win no chips by playing that hand. You admitted you did wrong; now hush.
O.K. Republican Representative Mathew Wollmann had sex with legislative interns, in 2015 and in 2016, one former intern says Representative Wollmann’s sexual misconduct was “common knowledge,” and Legislative leadership did nothing about it.
In case that’s not specific enough for you, Joel:
Representative Wollmann had sex with people over whom he held enormous public power, which is unethical.
Representative Mathew Wollmann lied to intrepid KSFY reporter Bridget Bennett last night before caving in and admitting his unethical behavior. That lie is unethical; his about-face preface about working in film and creating a “character defining moment” for all history is fatuous self-aggrandizement.
The Legislature—and even though they’re getting only one point in this list, this is the biggest point on the flow—it sounds as if the Legislature knew about Representative Wollmann’s unethical behavior for some portion of his first term in office. The Legislature’s failure to act upon allegations of improper sexual conduct by Representative Wollmann would prove that the Legislature cannot be trusted to enforce its own rules, police its own members, or protect young employees from the sexual advances of powerful politicians. That’s unethical and then some.
Al Novstrup talks a lot about how working in the Legislature is all about relationships. Maybe that’s why he keeps voting against banning sex between legislators and their young interns and pages.
Senator Novstrup voted with eight other legislators on the Joint Legislative Procedure Committee last Wednesday to reject a rule proposed by Senator Stace Nelson that would explicitly forbid legislators from having any sexual contact with any legislative intern or page.* Senator Novstrup voted against a similar rule that Senator Nelson brought to the floor Friday to protect young people from Capitol predators. Novstrup was one of seventeen Republican Senators voting no:
Democratic Minority Leader Billie Sutton* pulled his Democrats out of this fire. Senator Jason Frerichs voted against the sexual contact rule in committee but then came to caucus and said he didn’t see any reason not to support Senator Nelson’s revisitation of the rule. The five fearless Democrats present thus voted for the motion.
The rule Senator Nelson brought to the full Senate Friday was actually softer than the rule he proposed in committee Wednesday. His original rule was absolute—”No legislator may have sexual contact with any legislative intern or page”—plus language about reporting and investigating. On Friday, Nelson was willing settle for just one no-nookie sentence with a new exception: “No legislator may have sexual contact with any legislative intern or page who is not the legislator’s fiancé or spouse.”
Fiancé?! Well, that probably killed Senator Nelson’s bill right there. How could the Senate, purveyors of wholesome sexual ethics for all South Dakotans, vote for any measure condoning premarital sex?
Senator Nelson’s softened language may have been meant to carve an exception for Rep. Mathew Wollmann, whose fiancée, according to her public Facebook postings, is an intern for the SDGOP:
I neither assume, assert, nor desire to know what sort of contact the newly affianced couple may be engaging in. I only note that the gracious Senator Nelson may have softened his rule to avoid raising unnecessary questions about any happy coupling. (Or maybe he was just doing a favor for his fellow Marine. Marines, like Republicans, do look out for each other like that.)
In speaking against Senator Nelson’s second try, Majority Leader R. Blake Curd said Friday that the Joint Rules had received enough discussion and that Senator Nelson’s concerns about sexual ethics in the Capitol have been sufficiently “asked and answered.” The majority (19 yeas on accepting the rules as reported from committee) followed their leader to that conclusion.
But Senator Novstrup must feel pretty strongly about this issue, even after national media attention, to put his name a second time to a vote that, on face, says, “I do not support a rule explicitly prohibiting me from having sex with an intern or page.”
*Correction 12:16 CST: I originally and incorrectly reported that Senator Sutton had voted against the rule change in committee. Senator Sutton does not serve on the Joint Legislative Procedure Committee. Senator Frerichs does, and he cast a vote to kill the no-contact rule in committee. Senator Frerichs then changed his mind for the floor vote. I apologize for the error.
*Correction #2 12:45 CST: I originally claimed that sex with pages under age 18 would already be a crime. However, a sharp commenter below notes that the age of consent in South Dakota is 16 (See SDCL 22-22-1).