GOP inaction, missteps hurt government accountability

Immediate Release: Friday, March 11, 2016

Contact: Michael Ewald, Communications Director, (605) 271-5405, press@sddp.org

GOP inaction, missteps hurt government accountability

Sioux Falls, SD (March 11, 2016)-

The South Dakota Democratic Party called on GOP leaders to dedicate more focus to cleaning up government corruption.

“We saw the legislature take great steps to improve education, but there was virtually no action with any teeth to clean up waste and fraud at the highest levels,” said Michael Ewald, South Dakota Democratic Party Communications Director.

Legislators affiliated with the Democratic Party proposed four measures to improve accountable government:

HB 1155 would have prohibited members of state boards and commissions from entering into contracts in subject areas governed by the board. It was deferred to the 41st legislative day in House State Affairs on a party line vote.

HB 1220 sought to rescind a scholarship waiver, restoring funds for scholarships that were diverted by questionable GEAR-UP contracts. The House defeated the measure on a mostly part line vote.

HB 1227 would have established an ethics commission. It was deferred to the 41st legislative day in House State Affairs on a party line vote.

Sen. 163 provided a reporting mechanism when a company or individual receives multiple small, no-bid government contracts that exceed the bid threshold. It was tabled by the Judiciary Committee.

The only action Republicans took regarding government accountability this session was by likely gubernatorial candidate Mark Mickelson who introduced HB 1214. The Rapid City Journal blasted the measure as doing “little to change the political culture that enabled Education Board members Kelly Duncan of Northern State University and Stacy Phelps of Rapid City to receive sizable contracts approved by fellow board members” in the Gear Up fiasco.” It also only “applies to 22 of South Dakota’s 130 boards”.

More concerning, rather than limit or stop conflict of interest violations, it codified them. According to the Rapid City Journal, “the legislation allows conflicts of interest if the board approves of them. This, however, is exactly what the Board of Education did for its two members. Secondly, once the board authorizes the conflict of interest, it is then entered [into] the public record, which in this case means it is filed with the auditor general who presents it for review to the Government Operations and Audit Committee, which consists of state lawmakers. In other words, the public would have no direct access to those approved conflicts of interest and the beneficiaries, which falls far short of meeting the transparency standards we expect from state government.”

The Rapid City Journal concluded, “It appears the real beneficiaries of the GEAR UP program were those awarded contracts by the state Board of Education.”

“Rather than limit conflict of interest, Rep. Mickelson’s legislation legalizes it in order to sweep the graft and corruption under the rug,” Ewald said. “It’s a convenient way to say you stopped abuse. Define it to not be abuse in the first place, and then hide the evidence. It’s a pretty clear example that if Mickelson is allowed to sit in the Governor’s mansion, the gravy train to those in bed with the Republican establishment will continue unencumbered.”

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