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Enough Back-Patting: South Dakota Third-Most Susceptible to Corruption

How many times does South Dakota have to get Fs for corruption before South Dakotans decide to do something about it?

Yesterday’s big USAToday article shows South Dakota tied for the third-lowest grade in the nation for institutions to check corruption. On a 100-point scale, South Dakota tied with Delaware with a score of 56. Michigan and Wyoming were the only worse states, tying at 51.

Seth Tupper produced the South Dakota report for the Center for Public Integrity. Here’s South Dakota’s scorecard showing each category of corruption bulwarks Tupper and CPI evaluated:

Corruption Scorecard for South Dakota, Center for Public Integrity, 2015. Click to access CPI's much cooler interactive scorecard!
Corruption Scorecard for South Dakota, Center for Public Integrity, 2015. Click to access CPI’s much cooler interactive scorecard!

Our auditing process gets the highest marks. Tupper finds the Department of Legislative Audit is well insulated from political pressur, and its findings are posted online. The auditing process loses points for lacking mandatory publication of audit investigations and for posting findings only PDF format rather than more open, searchable, and analyzable data formats.

Our lowest, sub-50 scores come in five categories:

  • Political Financing (49): no limits on contributions from PACs or lobbyists, no limits on converting campaign funds for personal use, no independent auditing of campaign finance.
  • Public Access to Information (47): no open-format data requirements (meaning info is available, but lots of it is in hard-to-search formats), no calendars available for Governor or legislators, only middling compliance with open records laws with frequent resort to exemptions.
  • Executive Accountability (47): insufficient prohibitions on nepotism, cronyism, and patronage; no audit of executive asset disclosure.
  • Ethics Enforcement Agencies (46): no independent budgeting for or mandatory publication of ethics investigations.
  • Lobbying Disclosure (40): lack of frequent and detailed spending reports or salary data, no legal requirement for auditing of lobbying records.

Beyond the numbers, Tupper explains that South Dakota leaves the door open to corruption with an insular political culture:

Every year, 105 lawmakers and hundreds of lobbyists make the trek to South Dakota’s lonely capital city of 14,000 residents. Situated 34 miles from the nearest interstate highway, Pierre feels tiny and isolated, even by the standards of this remote plains state.

It’s in this cloistered environment that legislators and lobbyists commingle in the Capitol and in Pierre’s hotels and bars, wining, dining and even dancing the jitterbug together to fast-paced country music at the Ramkota Hotel’s RiverCentre Tavern.

It’s a comfortable atmosphere and an outgrowth of the state’s rural character. And little to none of it is reported to the public in any detail [Seth Tupper, “South Dakota Gets F Grade in 2015 State Integrity Investigation,” Center for Public Integrity, 2015.11.09].

But who needs to do anything about corruption when we’re all just so darned nice?

Across the board, the state lacks robust laws to prevent corruption, apparently the result of a sense, at least among South Dakota’s ruling class, that burdensome controls are not needed in a rural state with a supposedly high degree of familiarity, trust and cordiality [Tupper, 2015.11.09].


Pat yourself on the back, South Dakota. Tony Venhuizen, chief of staff (and, relevant to this discussion, son-in-law) to Governor Dennis Daugaard, tells Tupper that we haven’t enacted many of the anti-corruption measures on CPI’s scorecard because South Dakotans trust their government and “the state has very little history of corruption.”

You’re now all too busy wiping up the milk you just laughed out your nose for me to offer much more analysis. Let me pause for your laughter and clean-up and simply posit that we will test Venhuizen’s hypothesis in the 2016 election.


  1. larry kurtz 2015-11-10

    SDGOP wears corruption as a badge of honor.

  2. BOHICA 2015-11-10

    It has been a while since I was in school…. But ‘F’ is bad….right?

    You have to read this article in the Argus:

    Schopp: Gear Up reviews didn’t spot financial crimes

    “A cooperative that administered the federal Gear Up program in South Dakota had been under financial scrutiny for more than three years before state officials decided to revoke its contract.”

    I think I hurt myself laughing. The rest of the article is the worst political spin job I have seen in a long time.

  3. mike from iowa 2015-11-10

    Texas had a D+ in 2013,decided to make some reforms-allowed accused politicians to move trials to their home districts and got rewarded with a D- for their efforts. You could never guess Texas is a blood red state,could you?

  4. Lanny V Stricherz 2015-11-10

    Internal auditing, B-? How in the world is that possible, with EB-5 and Gear UP? Oh, if you don’t audit, it doesn’t count against you as a coverup, I see.

  5. rsterling 2015-11-10

    In our state government’s race to the bottom, they continue to propel the state toward the culture of a third world black hole.

  6. moses 2015-11-10

    Saw that big F on Kelo in the red, how much embarrassment goes to this administration.

  7. BOHICA 2015-11-10

    Moses…I think SD has reached rock bottom….but keeps digging

  8. mike from iowa 2015-11-10

    Maybe that is why wingnuts like Chinese investors so much. They keep digging holes and pretty soon they be speaking Cantonese or some damn thing. WTH-there are already tunnels to China near abandoned WalMart stores,according to Texas’ contributions to the wingnut genetics pool. Obama was gonna kidnap gun owners in Texas during recent military exercises(Jade Helm 15) and let Chinese torture them under WalMart stores. Unfortunately,not a single gun owner is missing-more than their marbles.

  9. Carolyn Cordie 2015-11-10

    In regards to the Argus article entitled: Schopp: Gear Up reviews didn’t spot financial crimes

    Gear Up co-op’s years of reviews showed “incompetence” but no signs of criminal activity….I take issue with this….

    In my 30 years of being a working adult in SD, I have found that incompetence in the workplace most often results in demotion, dismissal and/or potential prosecution when guidelines, rules, regulations etc. are either not in place or not adhered to, especially when large amounts of money are involved. Why should our own state government not be held to standards at least as high or higher than any other business? Let’s start asking some “uncomfortable” questions when these government officials hold press conferences and issue statements.

  10. Loren 2015-11-10

    Come on, SD! Only two states to beat for that “top” (bottom) spot! We can do it!

  11. Roger Cornelius 2015-11-10

    Eat your heart out Pat Powers!

  12. moses 2015-11-10

    Where was Schopp on this out to lunch or what?

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