Some of my readers think David Montgomery has sold out to the good-old-boys' network on whom he and his employer depend for access and advertising dollars.

If that were the case, I don't think that Sioux Falls paper would slap this headline on Montgomery's latest EB-5 report:

Rounds knew of Benda conflict in final days of term

This headline comes not from diligent investigative reporting but from Mike Rounds's own mouth. The Republican Senate candidate said in yesterday's live interview with 100 Eyes that he knew Richard Benda, his economic development chief, was going to work for an "investor" in Northern Beef Packers, the stalled economic development project toward which he directed $2.36 million in state grants during the last few weeks of his governorship.

Benda didn't identify which investor he would be working for, and Rounds said he didn't press. Benda went to work for SDRC Inc., a company managing EB-5 foreign investments for projects, including Northern Beef. On Tuesday, Rounds said he now feels Benda "misled" him by not disclosing where he was going.

At the time, though, Rounds didn't ask Benda for more details.

"I said 'Good, I'm glad to hear that he's going to be actively involved in the beef plant,'" Rounds said in a live interview on the Argus Leader's "100 Eyes" online show.

Rounds' focus at the time, he said, was on which of his Cabinet secretaries "should I meet with to find out if they need assistance in finding other opportunities" — not whether they were "leaving government with a conflict of interest," as Argus Leader managing editor Patrick Lalley asked Rounds. Benda already had lined up a job, so Rounds said he focused attention elsewhere [David Montgomery, "Rounds Knew of Benda Conflict in Final Days of Term," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.10.22].

Permit me to paint a managerial scenario, and you tell me whether I'm viewing the situation with hindsight or South Dakota common sense:

  1. I'm an outgoing governor, tying up loose ends in the Capitol.
  2. Among the loose ends are various fiscal and policy decisions to keep one of my marquee legacy projects alive. It's running over two years late and way over budget.
  3. I'm taking a risk writing some pretty big checks to keep the legacy project alive.
  4. I can't afford any bad press dragging this precarious project down.
  5. I find out one of my cabinet members who's been key in saving that project is now going to work for that project.
  6. I say, "Wait a minute, Richard. What exactly are you going to be doing for the project?" I listen closely. If I sense any hedging, I say "Cut the crap" and get the full story.
  7. Whatever answers I get, I think ahead to appearances, if not legal questions, and I say to my cabinet member, "I think it's best that, for these last couple weeks, we put a big brick wall between you and any policy decisions affecting the folks you're going to work for."
  8. I review all of the checks and other papers I've signed over the past few weeks for the project and make sure everything looks kosher.
  9. And above all, I make sure my guy going to work for the project is not the guy who carries the million-dollar state check to that project.

Rounds gets to my step 5, then veers off the road of good management, saying, Rich has a job? Great! Now I can focus on helping all my other pals get golden parachutes.

Rounds said at Dakotafest in August that if he'd known what Benda had been up to with respect to Northern Beef Packers and EB-5, he'd have fired Benda. In yesterday's interview, Rounds said, "Richard Benda did some things in the last couple of weeks (of Rounds' term) that I did not know about, and that I'd like to ask him questions about." But when Benda was right in front of him, and the issues all hot on his plate, Governor Rounds chose not to ask.

And the day Mike Rounds didn't ask Richard Benda those questions at the end of 2010 may have been the day that Mike Rounds lost the election of 2014.