Sioux Falls will be popping with provocative political discourse tomorrow. Greg Belfrage has invited me converse with him on KELO-AM Friday morning at 8:20 a.m. about petition law, public discourse, and South Dakota's Senate campaign. Sioux Falls commuters, watch out for drivers distracted by a "self-proclaimed communist atheist blogger who lives out of state" speaking on conservative South Dakota talk radio.

If that interview doesn't burn the city down, the Sioux Falls Democratic Forum (brave sponsors of this blog!) will host their Friday Forum at the Sioux Falls VFW. In more cross-partisan craziness, these Dems have invited Republican turned Independent Larry Pressler to speak to them. That program starts at noon.

Pressler may get questions about an anonymous website set up to attack his record. Pressler's real website, LarryPressler.com, is somewhat sparse on issues, so someone has poached and redirected LarryPressler2014.com to throw up details on Pressler's record. The latter site attacks Pressler as a big-spending, self-serving Washington insider beholden to PAC money.

It's hard to tell who's behind that website. Its derogatory tone smells like the work of Mike Rounds's man Dick Wadhams. But the Pressler attacks, based as they are on reminding people of Pressler's record, could be coming from Democrats concerned that nostalgia might lure potential Weiland voters to Pressler's professed moderation.

Pressler knows he's in for hard questions; nobody gets off easy at Democratic Forum!

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Pat Powers posts possible GOP U.S. Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg's appearance on Arizona blogger Josh Bernstein's Internet radio show. Because there's not enough pain and suffering in my life, I listen.

I've never listened to Bernstein's program. The opening makes me feel like I'm tuned in to the Two Minutes Hate.

Bernstein is a crappy interviewer. He seems less interested in asking questions and more interested in flogging his pet talking points of the day. He spends the first half of his interview dragging Ravnsborg through a re-recitation of Bernstein's own topics for the day: guns, ICANN, and Ukraine/Crimea. Bernstein's own continued pronouncements take up as much airtime as his guests responses. Bernstein doesn't probe his guest's thoughts or follow up on his responses. He plows along with his agenda, more interested in proving his own passion, ideology, and vocabulary than in spotlighting a fellow conservative who is doing the hard work of running for office.

Not that Ravnsborg says much anyway. He recites various predictable responses, and recites them poorly. Ravnsborg sounds nervous, strained, and short of breath, as if the mere business of keeping up with an arrogant radio host wears him out. Ravnsborg does not inspire confidence.

Ravnsborg says very little about South Dakota. Of course, Bernstein doesn't ask much about South Dakota, even though he mouths the formula, "Politics is mostly local." Neither is investing energy or intellect in specific, practical South Dakota issues; à la Bosworth, both are crutching along on the pre-fab national conservative punditry, playing to a national audience of distant and gullible listeners and donors rather than focusing on the people whom Ravnsborg would represent.

Reaching for something, anything worth mentioning, I note that Ravnsborg criticizes opponent Stace Nelson (coyly, "not going to mention names") for saying he would not support Marion Michael Rounds if Rounds wins the nomination. Ravnsborg frets that if Republicans dissatisfied with Rounds stay home or vote for newly Independent Larry Pressler in protest, South Dakota will end up with a "liberal liberal Democrat" who will hold the Senate seat for three terms, just like McGovern and Daschle... which thought-provoking observation Bernstein follows up with his own general discourse in support of term limits. Ravnsborg and Bernstein thus show themselves as RINOHINOs—RINO-Hunters In Name Only who say they can't stand "moderate" Republicans like Mike Rounds and John McCain but who will still roll over and bark/vote for them.

Candidate Rounds, carry on—you have nothing to worry about from Ravnsborg or conservative squawkers like Bernstein.

p.s.: Ravnsborg frets that President Obama wants to shrink government by reducing military spending on things like the A-10 Warthog that he loves to pose in front of. Ravnsborg, like too many pretend conservatives, says he opposes big government, but really loves big government when it carries big guns.

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The Aberdeen American News is the last place to look for anything like the "sensationalizing" that Attorney General Marty Jackley claims prevents him from releasing details about his investigation into former GOED chief Richard Benda's death. On today's editorial page, AAN says it believes AG Jackley's finding that Benda committed suicide is accurate.

But the AAN agrees with me that AG Jackley's legal argument for rejecting reporter Bob Mercer's public-records request on the case is bogus. More importantly, the AAN editors contend that by hiding behind Cathy Benda's opposition (out of concern for her 16-year-old daughter) to releasing more records about her ex-husband sets a dangerous precedent:

By denying the records request, Jackley — who could, indeed, make these records public — has cited previous rulings that allowed juvenile victims to have their names redacted from court proceedings.

In this case, however, the victims are the taxpayers of South Dakota. There are no juvenile victims whose names are to be protected.

Jackley has put an undue burden on the records request by requiring a private citizen — a family member — be required to sign-off on the information to be released.

Allowing a private citizen to decide if records are public or not sets a dangerous precedent [editorial, Aberdeen American News, 2014.01.09].

South Dakota's attorney general isn't just citing bogus case law. Attorney General Marty Jackley is ceding his legal authority to an unelected private citizen. Open the Benda files, Mr. Jackley, and show South Dakotans that you came to the right conclusion.

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Joel Ebert's analysis of the two-year filings from South Dakota's U.S. Senate candidates provides a nice little test of your personal political bias. Consider the following data on the sources of the campaign cash of Mike Rounds, Rick Weiland, Larry Rhoden, Annette Bosworth, and Stace Nelson:

SD out total %SD %out
Rounds $465,000 $851,000 $1,316,000 35% 65%
Weiland $67,000 $165,000 $232,000 29% 71%
Rhoden $53,200 $2,550 $55,750 95% 5%
Bosworth $27,100 $7,500 $34,600 78% 22%
Nelson $24,000 $750 $24,750 97% 3%
total $636,300 $1,026,800 $1,663,100 38% 62%

The first column shows the amount of itemized campaign contributions from South Dakotans. The second shows the amount from out-of-state donors. The third column shows each candidates total from identifiable sources (remember, the Federal Election Commission doesn't require candidates to say where they get individual donations that don't exceed $200). The fourth and fifth columns break down the sources by percentage of each candidate's total.

Here's your quiz: given just the above information, what headline do you write?

  1. Rounds Gets 82% of Out-State Money in Senate Race
  2. Weiland Has Highest Percentage of Out-State Cash in Senate Race
  3. Mike Rounds Gets More Support from South Dakota Donors Than Anyone Else Because Buying an Ad on My Blog Proves that the GOED/EB-5 Scandal Has No Political Implications
  4. Nelson, Rhoden Real South Dakotans; Bosworth, Weiland, Rounds Depend on Outside Funding
  5. Rounds Earns $851K in Out-State Donations; Weiland $165K
  6. Top Candidates Receive More than $1 Million from Outside South Dakota in Senate Race

If you're editing Mike Rounds's local paper, you pick... F! 

The blending of Rounds's and Weiland's out-state takes into one headline allows us to lead with a rounder number—land's sakes, Mildred: one million dollars! What's this country coming to...?—but it seems to misleadingly place Rounds and Weiland on the same level (and if I'm Rounds, I'm torqued any time some journalist puts Weiland and me on my level).

I'd really like to know what you take from the above numbers. Is it a bigger deal that Weiland beats Rounds on percentage of out-state cash, 71% to 65%? Or is it a bigger deal that Rounds has raised five times more out-state cash than Weiland has?

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While millions of dollars disappear in the Northern Beef Packers bankruptcy and fishy EB-5 visa investment program, Attorney General Marty Jackley seems preoccupied with waging war on the press. When he conditionally granted Bob Mercer's request for a press review of the Richard Benda death investigation files, AG Jackley took a gratuitous yet unsubstantiated swipe at online journalists reporting on his dereliction of duty on the EB-5/Benda scandal.

Friday, after he canceled that media review, and after Mercer got sources to link Benda to the misappropriation of a state grant to NBP, AG Jackley went ape on the media in general. In his Friday press release, Jackley claimed that the South Dakota press is getting his part in the EB-5 story wrong:

As Attorney General, I am disappointed to have read certain Editorials relating to the state’s investigation into the $550,000 diversion of funds to the federal EB-5 program. Because it is uncharacteristic of reputable news sources to present inaccurate information to the public, I hope they take this opportunity to present accurate information to their readers [Attorney General Marty Jackley, press release, 2013.12.13].

While again failing to cite one specific instance of an inaccurate media report, AG Jackley complains about accusations that he hasn't investigated the state's use of the EB-5 program. He then repeats and enhances his argument that he can't investigate the EB-5 program:

...Although the Attorney General has no authority over a federal EB-5 program and the associated approval process of funds, it will continue to cooperate with federal authorities. As an elected official my skin is thick, but the prosecutors and investigators in this case and the public deserve better reporting from reputable news sources [Jackley, 2013.12.13].

Note the new phrase: the associated approval process of funds.

Note also that Jackley again misstates the nature of the story. He is correct that he has no authority over federal programs. But his release and the reports to which it responds deal with state Grant #1434, issued by Governor Marion Michael Rounds, to Northern Beef Packers, a private corporation. NBP was receiving millions of dollars of EB-5 money, but the authorizing agreement for Grant #1434 does not mention the EB-5 program. For Jackley to imply that he can't look into questions about state Grant #1434 because the money ultimately ended up in the hands of dudes administering the federal EB-5 program is like saying he can't investigate my stealing money out of his pocket because I used that money to bribe an IRS agent.

The press is perfectly justified in questioning the Attorney General's handling of the EB-5/Benda investigations. The press is perfectly justified in asking why the Attorney General, in six months of investigating pretty straightforward misappropriation of funds with Benda's literal fingerprints on them, not to mention the easily documentable double-billing of airplane tickets, didn't take the very obvious step of questioning Richard Benda.

And on the question of Benda's death investigation, the press is perfectly justified in saying that Jackley is making up rules and violating basic rule of law:

Moreover, Jackley is, quite literally, making up the rules as he goes. First, he refuses media inspection of a death investigation of an official involved in an FBI investigation, then agrees to allow a pool report of redacted documents, and now media access has been denied by allowing a family member to simply refuse to give written permission.

Benda’s death investigation report should be available to the media under rules that are not arbitrarily decided by public officials.

We call on the South Dakota Legislature to change state law so that investigation reports are public records that can only be sealed by a court. Making up rules on the fly, especially when a person’s death is involved, is not how civil societies are supposed to function [editorial, Rapid City Journal, 2013.12.15].

The only inaccuracies coming out of the reputable press on the Attorney General's handling of the EB-5/Benda affair are the quotations the press prints from the Attorney General's office. If the public is losing trust in the Attorney General's office, he has no one to blame but himself.

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I know you readers find the Benda/GOED/EB-5 story fascinating; let's see what radio listeners think! Dan Peters has invited me to speak with him and Rick Knobe this evening on KSOO Radio's Viewpoint University. Peters says our conversation will focus specifically on Attorney General Marty Jackley's efforts to keep secret the evidence he gathered in his investigation of Richard Benda's suspicious death and reporter Bob Mercer's efforts to crack those records open for the public.

The Benda segment is scheduled for 6 p.m. Central, 5 p.m. Mountain. Send Rick and Dan your questions, and tune in at supper time!

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Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City) tells me she has received about twenty signatures from fellow legislators, Democrat and Republican, joining her in her call for a special session to authorize an audit of the Governor's Office of Economic Development and SDRC Inc., the private contractor that ran the state's EB-5 visa investment program. That's well short of the 47 Representatives and 24 Senators she'd need to convene the Legislature early.

But many more legislators, again, from both parties, have told Rep. Tyler that they want answers about GOED and EB-5:

Many legislators told me they too want answers to the many questions raised about the EB-5 program  but that a special session wasn’t the right venue, and I understand that. They pointed to an article by South Dakota government reporter Bob Mercer, which laid out how the state legislature’s executive board, which has subpoena and summons powers, can authorize an investigation.

I had, in fact, already followed Mr. Mercer’s advice. I asked to be placed on the agenda of the November 18th executive board meeting; however, the board rejected my request because of ongoing state investigations. With state investigations closed, we’re now left with more questions than answers.

Because of continuing bipartisan support for an investigation of the South Dakota’s EB-5 program and its projects, I’m renewing my request for an independent forensic audit at the next executive board meeting on Monday, December 16 [Rep. Kathy Tyler, press release, 2013.12.11].

The Legislature's Executive Board meets Monday: let's see if at least eight of its fifteen members will put truth and openness over squeamish partisan pettifoggery and vote to pursue the answers South Dakotans deserve.

Rep. Tyler's call for answers receives strong support today from the Rapid City Journal. Directly refuting the smokescreen raised by the GOP spin machine, RCJ says that by shrugging at the misappropriation of over half a million state taxpayer dollars, the Attorney General is failing to do his job:

The diversion of $550,000 in state funds to pay loan fees for SDRC is a serious matter that should be investigated. Who authorized the diversion, and what, exactly, did the money pay for?

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said he turned the investigation over to the FBI, which was already investigating the EB-5 program. He says it’s a federal matter, and he isn’t going to try to recover the state’s money.

Jackley isn’t doing his job, in our view; the state should investigate where state funds went and how they were used.

Rep. Kathy Tyler, D-Big Stone City, is calling for an independent forensic audit of SDRC. Tyler wants the state to “follow the money.”

We agree. Let the FBI investigate the federal EB-5 visa program; South Dakota should find out where its money went [editorial, "State Should Audit Diverted Funds," Rapid City Journal, 2013.12.12].

The Rapid City Journal joins its press cohorts in Aberdeen and Mitchell in demanding a more vigorous investigation than the Attorney General and Governor are giving us on the GOED/EB-5 affair. As RCJ says, it's pretty simple: state money was misused; we should find out who misused it and those folks accountable.

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That left a divot:

Watch out for those cables!

KELO brought down its defunct broadcast tower on Medicine Butte north of Reliance yesterday. The takedown clearly went better than the Zip Feed Mill demolition in 2005.

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