On July 26, Attorney General Marty Jackley gave Senator Jessica Castleberry (R-35/Rapid City) until yesterday, August 7, to repay the $603,219.79 that she illegally received in coronavirus relief funds to her Little Nest Preschool. Yesterday A.G. Jackley said the very publicly lamed-duck Senator is cooperating with the state to resolve the issue.
But the big news is at the bottom of John Hult’s Searchlight report, and it comes, as is so often the case, from Senate boss Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska), who says the Attorney General could find a whole bunch more Legislative geese to cook if they just take a gander:
Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, told his fellow lawmakers during a meeting of the South Dakota Legislature’s Executive Board on Monday that he’d like that committee to discuss the Constitutional provision on conflicts of interest that led to an investigation into Castleberry’s pursuit and acceptance of COVID relief funds.
The Senate Pro Tempore said people with an interest in running for office have asked him recently if they might wind up in violation of the provision if they’ve done business with the state. He also said current lawmakers need more clear guidance on the rules.
“We’ve got, and I suspect you’re going to hear it in the news in the next month, more instances of people that are in transactions (with the state),” Schoenbeck said. “We have to do something for potential candidates and current legislators so that they’re not getting in trouble. The more hands that look at that, the better.”
Schoenbeck said he’s already begun drafting some verbiage to clarify guidance for lawmakers, and that he’d like to add it to the agenda of the executive board’s next meeting [John Hult, “Senator Accused of Illegally Pocketing COVID Funds Cooperating with State,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.08.07].
Does Senator Schoenbeck know about more legislators making money on state contracts, in violation of the South Dakota Constitution, and state investigations thereinto? Is Governor Kristi Noem preparing nastygrams to all of those corrupt legislators, like the one with which she put her appointee Castleberry on public blast?
But I have to wonder what clearer “guidance” Senator Schoenbeck thinks legislators need. The relevant clause of Article 3 Section 12 of the South Dakota Constitution is pretty clear: “…nor shall any member of the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, or within one year thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the state or any county thereof, authorized by any law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected.” If you’re in the Legislature, once you vote on a budget, you can’t take any contracts from the state paid for by that budget. If you’re a candidate, you have nothing to worry about until you win and start casting budget votes. As Governor Noem wrote to Attorney General Jackley and Senator Castleberry two weeks ago, the South Dakota Supreme Court “could not have spoken more clearly… to this issue” in October 2020 when it said legislators could not contract for the coronavirus relief grants administered by the state. The court made that constitutional conflict-of-interest provision clear 22 years ago when it told Carol Pitts she couldn’t be a legislator and continue working for the Board of Regents. Legislators who can’t read and understand that simple constitutional provision and the clear case law surrounding it lack the reading comprehension necessary to study and vote intelligently on the hundreds of bills they face each Session.
I look forward to seeing the coming month’s news the names of those legislators whose lack of reading comprehension has led them into illegal transactions with the state and nastygrams Governor Noem will publish about them.