It’s nice to see that the Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor agree that South Dakotans should vote based on the corruption uncovered in the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal.
As the defense rested in the trial of GEAR UP honcho Stacy Phelps in Sioux Falls yesterday, both Billie Sutton and Kristi Noem issued press releases whacking each other for taking money from figures in the GEAR UP scandal. Sutton appears to have shot first, noting that Noem has taken contributions from two main GEAR UP figures who appear to fit the role of “unindicted co-conspirators,” Rick Melmer and Keith Moore. Melmer was the Secretary of Education of who steered millions of dollars in federal GEAR UP grant money to his tiny hometown educational coop in Platte, then stepped down from state government and collected a six-figure paycheck consulting that coop on how to use that federal money. Former Indian education director and Melmer’s pal Keith Moore used his connections to cash in on GEAR UP as well. His failure to properly document his lucrative work was one of the first signs Bob Mercer noticed of trouble at the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative.
Team Sutton finds that Melmer gave Noem’s campaign $750 this spring (see p. 5 of this supporting documentation filed May 21, 2018, by Noem with her pre-primary report). Moore contributed $300 a few days later (see attachment to this supplemental report submitted May 30). Sutton campaign manager Suzanne Jones Pranger explains why we should care:
The Congresswoman accepting campaign cash from former government officials connected to the GEAR Up scandal is just another example of why we know we cannot trust Kristi Noem to fix what is broken in state government. The Congresswoman’s questions of pay-to-play and links to insiders who are part of the problem with state government raise serious concerns about whether the people of South Dakota can trust Kristi Noem to look out for them and their tax dollars [link in original; Suzanne Jones Pranger, in press release from Sutton campaign, 2018.10.10].
Team Noem appears to fire back, not by pointing out that Melmer and Moore are good upstanding public servants guilty of no crime, but by digging up $11,000 in campaign contributions to Sutton from the attorneys for* local GEAR UP flunkies Stephanie Huber and Dan Guericke:
The GEAR UP case was a tragedy in Billie Sutton’s backyard, devastating a community in his own district. Despite that, GEAR UP criminal defense attorneys padded Sutton’s campaign account with $11,000 in contributions, including $7,000 in 2017 – the same year in which Sutton’s committee, the Government Operations and Audit Committee, was involved in the GEAR UP deliberations.
“Billie Sutton had a responsibility to uncover what happened with GEAR UP, but he chose to pad his political pocketbook instead,” said Justin Brasell, Kristi for Governor Campaign Manager. “How can anyone trust he will end corruption in Pierre when rather than fighting for accountability, Billie Sutton is funded by the criminal defense attorneys in one of the most tragic scandals in South Dakota history?”
- $4,000 from lawyer Clint Sargent, who at the time was a criminal defense attorney for Stephanie Hubers in the GEAR UP case. (2017)
- $3,000 from trial lawyer Clint Sargent (2018)
- $3,000 from attorney Michael Butler, a defense attorney representing Dan Guericke (who just pleaded guilty) in the GEAR UP case (2017)
- $1,000 from attorney Michael Butler (2018) [Kristi Noem campaign, press release, reprinted (of course!) on Dakota War College, 2018.10.10]
Now notice, you don’t get to vote on either of these press releases unless you admit that GEAR UP was a big bad instance of corruption made possible by our unaccountable one-party regime. If you accept that thesis, then you have to accept that South Dakota needs new management. All you’re left grappling with then is who is more likely to offer that change: Billie Sutton, whose contributors include the lawyers who’ve been defending (in the first case, quite successfully; in the latter, fighting down to a plea deal) the local patsies, or Kristi Noem, whose contributors include big establishment cronies who actually participated in the corruption…
…or Libertarian Kurt Evans, who probably hasn’t taken any money from anyone connected with GEAR UP… or, dare I speculate, anyone else?
Correction 12:13 CDT: Attorneys, not the Mid-Central functionaries themselves. My original line left out the attorneys for. I apologize for that omission.