Senator Mike Rounds talked to reporters yesterday about the corruption of the EB-5 program that began under his watch as Governor and that has destroyed South Dakota’s credibility in the eyes of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. Senator Rounds repeated two key stretches of the imagination that he used to deflect EB-5 criticism during his 2014 Senate campaign:
Rounds says he hasn’t seen the notice, but he believes the concerns in the report occurred when the program was run by a private firm or after he left the governor’s office in 2011.
Rounds, a Republican, says the program created thousands of jobs in South Dakota [“Rounds: Feds Right in Exercising Oversight of EB-5 in SD,” AP via KSFY, 2015.10.22].
Rounds dissembles when he tries to foist blame for any EB-5 mischief onto private firm SDRC Inc. and/or his successor Dennis Daugaard. The Rounds Administration made Joop Bollen its EB-5 czar in 2003. The Rounds Administration approved Bollen’s privatization of EB-5 into Bollen’s own corporation, SDRC Inc., in 2009. The September 28, 2015, USCIS termination notice to South Dakota lists a number of questionable financial transactions that took place prior to that privatization, while Bollen was still running EB-5 as a state employee and while Rounds was still Governor.
Really, Senator Rounds, instead of telling us what you believe the USCIS termination notice says, you should read the notice itself.
Rounds also exaggerates the job creation record of his EB-5 program. USCIS is terminating South Dakota’s access to EB-5 in part specifically because the state allowed EB-5 dollars to be used for activities unrelated to job creation. As for the dollars that may have been used properly, “thousands of jobs” is recycled from Rounds campaign propaganda that has never received independent confirmation and has been deemed lacking in evidence by Bob Mercer and by my own analysis of South Dakota job numbers.
Even Rounds doesn’t think his propaganda is strong enough to fight the USCIS termination notice. He says he won’t lobby to block the termination.
Think about that for a moment. The Obama Administration has targeted South Dakota for a unique punishment, one not dealt out to any other entire state. The Obama Administration wants to cut South Dakota off from a lucrative economic development program designed to help rural states. One would think that a Senator from South Dakota would be burning up the phone lines to USCIS demanding that the feds not treat our state so unfairly. Instead, we’re saddled with a Senator who kingpinned the very corruption that landed us in this hot water, and all he can do is shrug and say, “Don’t blame me!”
Rounds also tells AP that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll vote to extend the EB-5 visa investment program. Congress passed a ten-week extension that runs out December 11. The program needs reform, but Rounds, who claims EB-5 was great for South Dakota, can’t work up the courage to back his words with a clear position on legislation he could help pass.
Senator Rounds’s responses to the EB-5 scandal show a feckless Senator who can only spin words for self-defense, not the greater good of our fair state. Such is the weakened state of South Dakota’s voice in the U.S. Senate.