The Government Operations and Audit Committee should be receiving some interesting reading in the coming several days. GOAC chair Senator Larry Tidemann (R-7/Brookings) says that SDRC Inc. exec Joop Bollen has declined to appear before the committee in person but has offered to write answers to questions.
Senator Tidemann says that if Bollen is "willing to provide the answers in writing, that is as good as in person." False:
- Taking answers in writing allows Tidemann and Bollen to filter and stall. Tidemann is requiring legislators to submit questions by Friday, September 19. The committee will then "discuss" (i.e., weed out the questions the Republican majority doesn't want asked) those questions at its September 24 and forward the surviving questions to Bollen. We don't know when GOAC will receive or discuss Bollen's responses, since GOAC does not have another meeting on the calendar.
- Answers in writing don't allow for immediate follow-up. Bring Bollen in person to Pierre, and an attentive legislator or counsel for the committee could ask for clarification of unclear points, delve deeper into new information, and immediately redirect Bollen if he evades certain points.
- We cannot know if written responses are coming from Bollen himself, from his lawyer (Jeff Sveen? Rory King? Harvey Jewett himself?), or from the Rounds for Senate campaign. Only in-person testimony allows truly curious and nimble legislators to get Bollen off whatever script his minders prepare for him and hear directly from the witness.
Committee members composing questions will have written responses from Governor Dennis Daugaard and former governor Mike Rounds in hand to inform their questions:
Tidemann said Gov. Dennis Daugaard and former Gov. Mike Rounds, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, both indicated that by Wednesday they will provide written responses to the committee's questions so its members have a week to review the information before the Sept. 24 meeting [Carson Walker, "Joop Bollen Vows to Give Written Answers on EB-5," AP via that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.12].
To further inform their questions, committee members should turn to documents from GOAC's 2008 inquiry into Bollen's activities as director of the South Dakota International Business Institute at Northern State University:
- NSU President Patrick Schloss's June 16, 2008, letter to GOAC explaining what SDIBI was doing and where Joop Bollen sat in the chain of command.
- NSU interim president Laurie Stenberg Nichols's September 8, 2008, letter telling GOAC that SDIBI activities were creating lots of jobs and economic activities (with attachments listing EB-5 projects and showing growth in exports).
- NSU Nichols's October 14, 2008, letter explaining SDIBI's activities and itemizing expenses for the 2006, 2007, and 2008 International Business Conference hosted by SDIBI at Mount Rushmore.
- Minutes of December 1, 2008 GOAC meeting (Bollen and Nichols testified the same day as Richard Benda, who assured GOAC there was nothing funny going on with his department's $6.9-million contract with Lawrence & Schiller).
Reviewing these documents may allow committee members to focus on plowing new ground.
Inquiring legislators will also want to review my July 30 list of unanswered issues involving Bollen, Richard Benda, Northern Beef Packers, and the state's exploitation of the EB-5 visa investment program. That information and subsequent revelations should lead to the following crucial questions:
- Did you seek a lending license for the loan operations of SDRC Inc. and/or its subsidiary loan funds?
- Did you or any of your incorporated entities pay bank franchise tax?
- Who authorized the 2008 contract/"memorandum of understanding" between SDIBI (which you directed) and SDRC Inc. (which you owned)?
- Explain the genesis of the SDIBI–SDRC Inc. contract:
- Who participated in the conception, development, and drafting of that contract?
- When did that conception, development, and drafting take place?
- Who in state government authorized the conception, development, and drafting, and signing of that contract?
- Was the 2008 SDIBI–SDRC Inc. contract essentially a contract between you and yourself?
- How much money did privatizing your EB-5 recruitment and management functions divert from the public coffers to SDRC Inc.'s private profit?
- When you created SDRC Inc., did any member or employee of the Board of Regents, the Governor's Office of Economic Development, or other state government entity advise you as to whether your creation, ownership, and activities in SDRC Inc. violated Board of Regents policy, state statute, or any other rules or regulations?
- When Darley International filed suit to force SDIBI into arbitration in 2008, whom in state government did you notify, and when?
- Who in state government authorized you to submit the brief you filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, Western Division, on behalf of SDIBI on August 22, 2008?
- Who helped you draft that August 22, 2008, brief?
That's just me getting going over breakfast. Numerous follow-up questions would suggest themselves in a face-to-face interview. But since Senator Tidemann insists on shielding one former state employee from hard questions about his on-the-job activities, we'll have to trust in our legislators (well, at least in the two Democrats on the committee) to think through these questions, anticipate the possible answers, and compose an exhaustive list of follow-ups to submit on Friday for Chairman Tidemann's approval.