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:
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.