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Benda to Help Olson Promote Crony Capitalism at Heartland CPD

The Republican revolving door spins happily around Heartland Consumers Power District in Madison. As lifelong patronage beneficiary and former state senator Russell Olson advances to CEO of Heartland, he brings in Richard Benda to take his spot as Heartland's economic development director.

Like Olson, Benda has spent his career promoting government handouts for big business. Benda came to Madison last month to help his most recent employer, Lloyd Companies of Sioux Falls, win a county taxpayer handout to build apartment buildings that free market theory says should be springing up on their own. Benda was Secretary of Tourism and State Development under Governor M. Michael Rounds. That gig led to his administration of the South Dakota Investment Fund, where he apparently got his hands dirty with the ill-fated foreign investments in Northern Beef Packers:

"This is the first major processing plant to be built in close to 30 years" in the nation, said Richard Benda, loan monitor for the plant and former South Dakota Secretary of Tourism and State Development. "Every governor has talked about value-added agriculture, and that is what we are doing. It doesn't make sense for our ranchers to drive 300, 400 or 500 miles to get their cattle to a beef plant. We are going to have a state-of-the-art plant right here."

Benda said he expects area ranchers will increase the number of cattle they raise once the plant is built [Jeff Natalie-Lees, "Northern Beef Packers Plant Construction Progreses," Aberdeen American News, 2011.06.04].

At Governor Rounds's behest, Benda promoted $30 million in loans converted from EB-5 visa investor dollars to keep the NBP project moving even as it faced delays, contractor liens, and a clear lack of local investor confidence. Benda traveled to China to recruit more investors to save NBP. Those investments and millions more dollars have disappeared in bankruptcy.

Olson and Benda are two peas in the pod of South Dakota crony capitalism. I'm sure they'll make a good team at Heartland.


  1. lora 2013.11.28

    any more on this? Why did you let this drop? Where did Heartland (which used to be a cable company) get its money to become a utility? Was it the Chinese EB-5 fund? So does this belong to Communist China also?

  2. Coltar The Barbarian 2013.12.05

    I wonder how involved Olson was in the NBP debacle....

    Where does his resignation from office fit into the greater NBP timeline?

    Where does his appointment of Benda fit into the greater timeline? As a part of the Pierre GOP establishment, surely Olson had to know that Benda was being investigated when he got him this job @ Heartland.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.05

    Coltar, you and Lora both ask provocative questions. On timeline: Mike McDowell announced his retirement in May 2013. Heartland named Olson CEO in August;
    Olson announced at the same time his resignation from Senate, effective September 30. Olson announced hiring Benda on October 4. Benda died October 20.

    Now mingle these dates:

    March 18: federal grand jury subpoenas Daugaard's office.
    April 8: formal letter from Daugaard start's Jackley's investigation of GOED.
    May: Benda moves from SDRC's SDIF LP 6 and LP 9 to work for Lloyd Companies in Sioux Falls.
    September 19: Benda comes to Madison on behalf of Lloyd and successfully pitches a TIF for Lloyd's new apartment complex in the south part of town.

    It also rained a few times within that timeline. I can't posit any causal connections. Can you?

  4. lorahubbel 2013.12.06

    Thanks Cory...but like when I was in College...more information begs more questions. Does anyone know what kind of "power plant" is Heartland they have their own power lines? Didn't they used to be a cable company? Are they just a energy credit broker? Do they hire any engineers? What did Russ Olson do pre-legislator to qualify him to be a CEO of a "Power Plant"? just curious...

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.06

    Heartland has always puzzled me, Lora. They seem like more of a middleman than a practical power producer. Russ's old job—the one Benda was stepping into—is economic development, handing out other people's money as favors to businesses.

    But they own certain power resources:

    They have been a consumers power district since their creation in 1969: As such, Heartland is a public corporation and political subdivision.

    Heartland did provide dialup Internet access in the 1990s and early 2000s. I used their service until 2006, when Sioux Valley made wireless Internet available in rural Lake County.

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