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Ethics Commission a Political Creation to Fight Political Corruption

Like the Benda/Bollen/GOED/EB-5 scandal before it, the Westerhuis/Melmer/MCEC/GEAR UP scandal is prompting Democrats to push for a state ethics commission.

(Job #1 for such a commission: give these complicated scandals simple names that everyone can remember!)

As they did last winter, House Republicans say they’ve got corruption under control and an ethics commission is a useless partisan ploy:

House Majority Leader Brian Gosch opposed the ethics commission measure last session. He said an existing legislative oversight committee has successfully exposed weaknesses in oversight of the GEAR UP program managed by Mid-Central, showing that the current system works.

…House Republicans easily blocked the ethics commission plan during the 2015 session, arguing that it was unnecessary and that the EB-5 program was thoroughly examined by the operations and audit committee. Gosch said he largely maintains that view heading into 2016.

“I still think the intention is more of a political ploy,” he said. “I think an ethics commission, if in existence, would not have stopped the problems at Mid-Central” [James Nord, “Democrats Plan New Push for Ethics Commission over GEAR UP,” AP via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.10.12].

In a way, Rep. Gosch is right. Two generations of GOP domination of state government have allowed appartchiks to parlay their positions into six-figure windfalls. Politics lets this corruption happen. Only politics will stop this corruption. So sure, in that regard, the push for an independent ethics commission, whether it comes from Rep. Peggy Gibson and other legislators or from the bipartisan South Dakotans for Ethics Reform and the ballot measure they are promoting, is inescapably political, just like the purely political opposition Gosch et al. offer to protect their slop trough.

Let’s be honest: an independent state ethics commission threatens the power of the majority party as surely as an independent redistricting commission. The majority party doesn’t want to give up its power. That’s understandable. Selfish, unfair, unjust, but perfectly understandable.

But as long as the foxes guard the henhouse, hens will be eaten, and we won’t get all the eggs we expect from government. As long as one party controls appropriations, access, hiring, and firing, public employees and the press will live in fear and mostly stay silent, allowing (among other things) the transfer of multi-million-dollar federal grant administration to a crony-laden ed co-op far from media scrutiny in Platte. And we won’t find out about unethical behavior until men take shotguns to themselves and their families.

An ethics commission would be nice. But I doubt we’ll get one until we elect a state government with partisan balance. And if we had a more even split of Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, if we elected a Democratic Governor who could spend a couple terms placing Democrats in powerful positions, if state officials knew that any monkeyshines were just one election cycle away from being exposed by viable challengers from the other party and reporters unbeholden to entrenched monopoly-party leaders, a lot of corruption might check itself without an ethics commission.

39 Comments

  1. mike from iowa 2015-10-13

    House Republicans say they’ve got corruption under control…… They sure do. Wingnuts are in control of all SoDak’s corruption. They own it lock,stock and barrel.

  2. jerry 2015-10-13

    Gosch proved that he helped write the handbook on how to get away with corruption with the self witnessing of his signature that legally made him eligible for election, something we all do each time we sign our own name. What a nimrod, but he gets elected as he is the answer to his districts ideas of good government. Start with getting him culled and then we may have a good start of cleaning up the pig sty in Pierre.

  3. Donald Pay 2015-10-13

    If this was just everyday petty corruption, yeah, the Legislature should be able handle it. But, really, it has become so bad because the Legislature is part of the corruption process, and has been for decades. They haven’t been able to handle it because they are the problem.

    You don’t get multiple deaths of innocents from a few thousand dollars missing from the till. This was huge, huge corruption of millions of dollars flowing through the state system. The Legislature is responsible for all of it. They are the problem. Either they are total incompetents, or they are totally corrupt. Probably it’s a little bit of both.

    You don’t have to wonder how much the Legislature is implicated in all of this current stuff. They knew all the people involved, socialized with them and doled out the money to them. Legislators and their party accepted campaign dollars from them. The entire system is corrupt. Everyone else sees it. Why can’t they?

  4. mike from iowa 2015-10-13

    ethics commission is a useless partisan ploy: sort of like wingnuts using Benghazi to damage HRC? That is a strictly partisan endeavor and they have made it crystal clear their intentions to use the PP hearings for the same purpose.

    Donald Pay says everyone sees SoDak’s corruption,why not wingnuts? Wingnuts see it and embrace it because there are no enforceable laws and/or law enforcement personnel who would stop it. And there won’t be until voters throw the patently corrupt wingnuts out of state gubmint.

  5. bret clanton 2015-10-13

    One party rule breeds cronyism, nepotism and graft. And when it has been in place long enough these procedures become standard and accepted….

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-13

    …and, Bret, a lot harder to challenge, as everyone in positions of power is beholden to the regime. It is thus all the more urgent that we replace our Legislature and our Governor with members of a different party.

  7. mike from iowa 2015-10-13

    OT,Cory. I see former Rapid City mayor has been named city adminstrator of my hometown,Cherokee. Be a visible cultural shock and the only Indians around would be the athletic teams-Braves.

  8. MC 2015-10-13

    I would support a completely independent Ethics Commission, for the sole purpose of rooting out corruption at all levels of government, attached to the AG office.

    With too many Commissions, Boards,Panel, etc. why would we needs a Legislature, or even a Governor? We have a commission for for that.

  9. larry kurtz 2015-10-13

    An independent ethics commission attached to AG Loretta Lynch’s office works for me.

  10. mike from iowa 2015-10-13

    EB-5 was investigated? No face to face, public waterboardings of the main culprits. Does anyone know where all the records Bollen absconded with are? What a freaking joke of an investigation. South Dakota’s wingnuts better hang on to their day jobs. They ain’t gonna make it as comedians.

  11. MC 2015-10-13

    I’m not sure however I believe there is still an on going federal investigation.

  12. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-10-13

    Could an investigation come from the US AG office because federal money is involved? Would that give our Real Attorney General a stake in SD Koch/Republican corruption, and greater standing to become involved? Has anyone tried to involve AG Lynch?

  13. Douglas Wiken 2015-10-13

    The whole rotten system depends on everybody in it covering every body else’s butt, no matter how rotten, corrupt, or illegal.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-13

    MC, has Governor Daugaard picked the replacement for your District 9 Rep. yet? Your support for an independent ethics commission boosts your stock for this blog’s endorsement of your candidacy. :-)

    I agree, we could reach a point where we have too many boards and commissions. However, with a part-time Legislature, we need boards to handle certain business year-round. And if we need a commission to manage cosmetology, shouldn’t we have a commission to deal with ethics and corruption in state government?

  15. Donald Pay 2015-10-13

    Wisconsin has an independent board (Government Accountability Board) of retired judges dealing with campaign finance, lobbying and ethics violations. The Republicans want to get rid of it. The reason: the GAB initiated an investigation of Scott Walker’s corrupt campaign finance practices. The Republican Party here is totally corrupt, planning to sell off state land to several of Scott Walker’s billionaire campaign contributors, and the Republicans are trying to protect Walker and themselves from criminal investigations.

  16. Clarity 2015-10-13

    O please o please let Chad and Annette and maybe pornahan run the ethics board! It would be a gift that keeps on giving

  17. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-10-13

    Clarity, that is so funny!

  18. Roger Elgersma 2015-10-13

    It would be best if the treasurer was always of the other party than the governor. This would be an inherent check and balance. But when Dick Butler was a dem treasurer and Janklow a rep gov, Butler found problems and exposed them. So they passed the gag law which makes it possible to keep problems secret. This inherently tells people in government that no one will dare tell if they cheat. This is ethically horrendous. There is no hope to clean up corruption in this system and those who are not for correcting it are inherently suspect of being corrupt.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-14

    Note what Donald said: an independent ethics commission is a threat to any party’s power just by dint of its ability to investigate and make headlines about errors and malfeasance that won’t look good come re-election time. We don’t need term limits; we need term challenges, laws and institutions that subject elected officials to more scrutiny and limit their ability to leverage their incumbency into re-election.

  20. MC 2015-10-14

    Do you all hate ( I mean, really HATE) the Republican party that much? We have two situations were people were trusted with public money, and they took advantage of the system.

    They were also white, do you hate white people?
    They were males, do you hate white men?

    Just because a handful of people are corrupt, doesn’t mean the entire party is sour. I doubt anyone would consider the Honorable Stace Nelson as being corrupt, or even Pastor Steve Hickey.

    IMHO, There are only a handful of people who thought they could get away with it. Let’s go after those, and leave party affiliation out of it.

  21. larry kurtz 2015-10-14

    Neither Nelson nor Hickey are GOPers anymore but the rest of the Republican Party is made up of earth haters, misogynists and criminals.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-14

    MC, I don’t hate the Republican Party. After all, they brought us Abraham Lincoln and the EPA.

    (I don’t hate white men. I’m one of them.)

    But I recognize that power corrupts, and I recognize that the South Dakota Republican Party has too much power. The fact that not all Republicans are corrupt and that I like Stace Nelson and Steve Hickey (neither of whom, interestingly, enjoyed much favor with the SDGOP, both of whom, as Larry notes, are now out of power) has no bearing on the dire need for an independent ethics commission.

  23. mike from iowa 2015-10-14

    MC-it is good to see you aren’t totally devoid of feelings,the way most wingnuts are. Let’s hope you have a conscience and truly want to get rid of the corruption that permeates your party and state. Your Dakota wingnuts aren’t true Rethuglicans-old,white men with measurable amounts of compassion for the less fortunate. You wingnuts have compassion for the koch bros and the desire to control women’s reproductive rights.

    On a related front,wingnut Jason Chaffetz,nominal head of the federal wingnut probe into Planned Parenthood’s so-called illegally selling aborted baby parts has admitted Planned Parenthood has done nothing wrong.

  24. MC 2015-10-14

    Power corrupts.

    I am in favor of some oversight. Attached to the AG’s office for possible prosecution is needed, otherwise, independent.

    There also need to be some limits. We don’t want them going on a witch hunt.

    The issue I find is finding enough people to serve on the commission. In some places it is hard enough to find candidates to run for office

  25. larry kurtz 2015-10-14

    Republicans are all witches, Clark, and Marty Jackley is head warlock in the coven.

  26. Joe 2015-10-14

    I don’t need an ethics committee, as I feel most of them are publicity stunts, and a political tool.

    What I want, and what South Dakota needs is a state auditors department that A. actually does something, and B. when its not sure, hires experts, whether it involves big name Dems, Republicans, foreigners or good ole South Dakota homeboys.

    These are auditing errors, that in most states that have a legit state auditing system, get caught right away, if its an honest error, its fixed, if its not, they go to jail.

    I teach in Arizona now (pays better than South Dakota), and the state auditors come to the schools once a year, check the books, check the inventory, if something is missing it gets noted, if you have over a certain % of auditing errors, or auditing errors over a certain amount you are put on alert and have to have an outside privet firm audit you until you are taken off of alert. When you are on alert you have to jump through hoops to get your state funding.(show where all the money is going, with everything adding up)

    That is how the schools, how these Co-ops, and how any entity that has state grants or contracts should be managed. Once a year, the auditors go in and check everything out, if something is funny, we call the professionals.

    It seems like in South Dakota, unless a whistle blower comes forward it takes them way to long until everyone is way too deep. It also seems like stuff that just shouldn’t be allowed to happen, happens and then all the blame is placed on 1 person after the fact.

  27. Roger Cornelius 2015-10-14

    Why wouldn’t any honest republican, or Democrat for that matter not want an ethic commission with full investigative and subpoena powers? By saying NO to such a committee in itself is justifying corruption.
    If you look on any website that ranks state by state corruption you continually see South Dakota rank in the top ten and specific reasons for the state’s high ranking.
    Like the rankings on teacher payer as the poorest in the nation, why wouldn’t republicans want to work to clean up those poor ratings.
    I would also question whether or not to have a corruption commission that is attached to the Attorney Generals office, they are not necessarily above corruption, conducting poor investigations and covering up or explaining away corruption within their own party.

  28. MC 2015-10-14

    Ethics committee, State Auditor, what ever let’s pick one and run with it

    We are having way too many of these incidents, that shouldn’t be happening. much of it is caused by lack of oversight and break down of communication.

  29. Joe 2015-10-14

    You could have a corruption committee, however I’d either see it as over the top aggressive or a there in name only type of a committee. I’d rather just see a really aggressive auditors office with the same type of power through the law.

    Auditors audit money, and corruption involves money. If EB-5 had been audited you know early on or this coop or many state contract holders. I’d start with something small.

    Democrats need to pick fights they can win, and I feel that if they get behind stronger auditing laws, and then you know actually nominate a candidate for State Auditor that would be a step in the right direction.

  30. MC 2015-10-15

    After some thought, I’m kind of warming up to the this idea of State auditor. They might eve be able to go through some of these school budgets and find money that could be used to pay teachers more.

    When I get some time I might have a look at Arizona’s program.

  31. mike from iowa 2015-10-15

    MC, at 6:29 you said there was only two situations where people took public monies. Now you say there have been too many. Is your position evolving or do you finally get it-the breadth and depth of corruption in your state?

  32. Douglas Wiken 2015-10-15

    Ethics commissions should not have the same ratio as legislature or executive, but opposite. If 60%Democrat, then 40% of board should be Democrat and 60% Republican and if the other way around similarly. Otherwise, these things become the fox investigating his cohort, the fox that ate the chickens.

  33. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-10-17

    A reverse ratio? Fascinating suggestion, Douglas! Has any government entity ever implemented such a watchdog measure?

  34. leslie 2015-10-17

    mc-did u miss that regents, NSU, AG’s office, GOAC, rounds and daugaard and most other republican leaders enabled and covered-up EB5?

    hate has no use here. we want honesty in state government. don’t you?

  35. Douglas Wiken 2015-10-17

    Cory, I don’t know of any such reverse ratio, but somebody must have thought about it before I did. Years ago, I thought I had a good idea for a rotary steam engine. Somebody else did too…in 1746 or so.

  36. MC 2015-10-17

    What makes you think corruption is only limited to the party that is in power?

  37. mike from iowa 2015-10-17

    MC,what makes you think corruption is limited? Doesn’t apear to be any limits to wingnut corruption in Dakota.

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