Last updated on 2014.08.23
Senator Larry Tidemann (R-7/Tidemann) acts like he's afraid of his own shadow. He chairs the Legislature's Government Operations an Audit Committee. His committee has the power to subpoena witnesses to investigate crimes, corruption, and just plain sloppy work in state government.
Yet, as was the case in June, Senator Tidemann keeps looking for excuses not to use that subpoena power. Heading into today's GOAC meeting, during which the committee is supposed to discuss financial misconduct in the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the EB-5 visa investment program, Senator Tidemann tells David Montgomery that he doesn't think he can subpoena EB-5 chief Joop Bollen:
Tidemann said his committee has a limited scope in terms of investigating a complex scandal that combines government and private business.
“We are not the court system,” Tidemann said. “We can bring in things that deal with state government. I can’t bring you in to talk about your private funds. I don’t think that’s in the authority of GOAC” [David Montgomery, "Legislators Consider Subpoena in EB-5 Case," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.07.29].
Even though Kurt Evans has taken the weight off my shoulders, permit me to do the attorney general's job for a moment.
GOAC, the Legislature, and all sorts of other public agencies have subpoena power:
1-26-19.1. Administration of oaths--Subpoena powers--Witness fees--Disobedience of subpoena. Each agency and the officers thereof charged with the duty to administer the laws of this state and rules of the agency shall have power to administer oaths as provided by chapter 18-3 and to subpoena witnesses to appear and give testimony and to produce records, books, papers and documents relating to any matters in contested cases and likewise issue subpoenas for such purposes for persons interested therein as provided by § 15-6-45. Unless otherwise provided by law fees for witnesses shall be as set forth in chapter 19-5 and be paid by the agency or party for whom the witness is subpoenaed.
Failure of a person to obey the subpoena issued pursuant to this chapter may be punished as a contempt of court in the manner provided by chapter 21-34 [South Dakota Codified Law 1-26-19.1].
The Legislature itself acknowledged GOAC's subpoena power in HCR 1010, the resolution the Legislature passed last February to assure us that the Legisalture would do something about the GOED/EB-5 scandal and to forestall pressure for immediate and firmer action against GOED and SDRC Inc.:
...the South Dakota Legislature requests the Joint Committee on Government Operations and Audit to conduct hearings on issues related to the Governor's Office of Economic Development, beginning this 89th Legislative Session upon receipt of three independent audits. Hearings may include a review of all available audits and other information, ordering of additional audits, questioning of persons involved in related economic development projects, and opportunities for public testimony. The committee's powers to summon witnesses and issue subpoenas may be exercised as necessary... [2014 HCR 1010].
Review the rules of procedure for subpoenas in Chapter 15-6, and you find no language exempting private parties or private funds from subpoena. Senator Tidemann may defend his subpoenal reticence with SDCL 2-6-4, which defines the scope of GOAC's investigative power:
2-6-4. Investigative powers of Government Operations and Audit Committee. The Government Operations and Audit Committee may examine all records and vouchers, summon witnesses, and thoroughly examine all expenditures and the general management of each department [SDCL 2-6-4].
That statute refers to government departments. But remember, everything Bollen did in managing EB-5, even after he and Richard Benda finagled EB-5 authority into a private entity to better shield their get-rich-quick schemes from public oversight, he did under authority granted solely by a state contract with the Department of Tourism and State Development (now GOED). The funds Bollen managed were authorized by the state. The $989,946 indemnification fund that Bollen's SDRC Inc. is still holding belongs to the state.
Senator Tidemann, this isn't hard. Governors Rounds and Daugaard allowed the privatization of a state program. Under Bollen, SDRC Inc. was carrying out the functions of a state department. To suggest that state functions are rendered immune from state oversight by handing them to private contractors creates a perverse incentive and escape for corrupt state officials.
Subpoena Bollen. Find out how he used his state authority.