The University of South Dakota put federal public defender Neil Fulton in charge of our law school last week. USD passed over two out-of-staters with law school dean experience to hire the actively practicing Miller native.
2007 to 2010… wasn’t there a lot of exciting stuff going on with EB-5 then?
There sure was, and Neil Fulton appears to have been one of the players in that fine scandal. According to Rounds’s EB-5 czar Joop Bollen, Neil Fulton gave final review and approval to the contract that privatized Bollen’s state job and allowed Bollen to hawk EB-5 visas with more speed, less oversight, and more profit potential. Fulton, who told Bob Mercer that EB-5 “was not a plot,” downplayed his involvement with EB-5 privatization contract. Mike Rounds himself told Mercer, “I was not involved in the transactional details nor did I review the contract.”
As I reported in November 2014, those comments combine to form either inconsistency or clever parsing. Whichever is the case, Fulton was a key player a pivot point in South Dakota’s EB-5 scandal.
Just prior to formally joining the Rounds Administration, Fulton tried helping Rounds keep 14,000 other secrets—the paychecks of South Dakota state employees. In 2007, that Sioux Falls paper asked the Governor Rounds to release the salaries of state workers. Governor Rounds engaged Fulton, who was lawyering for well-connected Pierre law firm May Adam Gerdes and Thompson, to throw a baloney-wall at the press:
Gov. Mike Rounds would not respond to requests for interviews, and his office did not provide the requested list of workers and their pay. A private lawyer hired by the governor’s office, Neil Fulton, wrote a letter to the Argus Leader explaining why the state would not comply with the request.
“The State is bound by applicable statutes and administrative rules limiting what personnel information can be released and how,” Fulton wrote.
Basically, the state officials say that South Dakota law does not require that a list of employees, their job titles and salaries be kept. Therefore, they say, such information is not open to the public, because the open records law says only those records that are required by law to be kept are open to the public.
Fulton also refers to an administrative rule that limits how the state could make the information public [“Public Employee Salaries a Secret,” AP via Sioux City Journal, 2007.06.18].
A month later, Rounds and Fulton surrendered to the arguments of that Sioux Falls paper and this blog and the practices of the Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor, Commissioner of School and Public lands, and the Public Utilities Commission and admitted that such information really was open to the public. South Dakota’s open records law hadn’t changed in that month, neither had the administrative rule Fulton had cited for his to client; Fulton and Rounds simply had to abandon their legally untenable opacity. And a year later, we had the great and wonderful Open.SD.Gov, where we can keep track of the salaries of all of Kristi Noem’s nepotized kin.
And now Neil Fulton is in charge of the USD Law School, where he can keep an eye on all of our aspiring young jurists and make sure they learn how the game is played in South Dakota. Given his past flakking for Rounds, we can see why the GOP machine would be very pleased with Fulton’s ascent to this position of influence.