Press "Enter" to skip to content

Wismer Promises to Bust Thief; Now Must Start with Own Campaign Website Plagiarist

Here's the difference between Pat Powers and me: He doesn't think that state employee diverting, if not outright stealing, over a hundred million dollars from the state of South Dakota is a big deal, but he thinks a Democratic gubernatorial candidate plagiarizing words from other Democrats' websites deserves three screaming blog posts in a row.

Here's another difference: I'll admit that, on the latter point, he's entirely correct.

Rep. Susan Wismer, Democratic candidate for governor
Rep. Susan Wismer, Democratic candidate for governor

I wanted to spend my evening reveling in one of Rep. Susan Wismer's best campaign promises yet: elect her, and she'll direct Attorney General Marty Jackley to charge Joop Bollen with theft by deception. (She'd better have that order in the chute ready to go: she says the statute of limitations is seven years; Bollen signed his conflict-of-interest contract on January 15, 2008; we inaugurate the winner of this gubernatorial election on January 6, 2015.)

But I can't, because some meathead on Team Wismer plagiarized chunks of her Issues page.

Hey, Meathead! I don't know who you are, but I am talking to you.

You're telling me that you're writing about a woman who wants to be governor of South Dakota, and you think it's smart not just to steal text, but to steal text from people running to govern Wisconsin and Texas? You're telling me that Wismer is so hard to write about that you couldn't come up with anything on your own? You're telling me you can't simply tell Wismer's story and Wismer's positions in her own words? Do you realize how bad this makes your candidate look?

Plagiarism. I hate plagiarism. I make no excuses for plagiarism.

And Wismer's first impulse was to make excuses for plagiarism:

Wismer downplayed the incident when asked about it Thursday afternoon.

"This isn't academia. This is politics," Wismer said. "We all do what we can to save time" [David Montgomery, "BuzzFeed: Wismer Copied Issue Statements," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.25].

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaggghhhhh! Jumpin' Pete Jiminy Hanukkah Trashcan-Kickin' Sakes!

Permit me to calm down for a moment and acknowledge the accuracy of Wismer's initial response. Indeed, this isn't academia. If it were a classroom, I would make this a teachable moment. I would explain to my student (for the second time, because when I teach writing, we cover this on the first day) what plagiarism is, why her action constitutes plagiarism, and how she can avoid plagiarism in the future.

But this isn't my classroom. It's politics, where the consequences are such that we don't have time for teachable moments. We barely have time for the butt-chewing Meathead and Wismer deserve.

No, we do not all plagiarize. You do not save time by plagiarizing. Someone will catch you, everyone will read about it, and you will spend all week scrubbing the website and rewriting the issue statements that you were supposed to write in the first place. You (er, your candidate, not you, because you no longer work for the campaign, right? right?!) spend the rest of the campaign leaning into a constant hail of easy shots that your opponents are entirely justified in taking.

(I actually don't think Governor Daugaard will say one word about this incident. He won't think he needs to. But his surrogates will have a field day.)

Wismer quickly (but not quickly enough) figured out that she had responded poorly:

I understand the seriousness of these allegations. Under no circumstances would I ever condone the stealing of another person’s work. I am disappointed in this situation. My staff has put processes in place to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen on my campaign again [Susan Wismer, quoted in Andrew Kaczynski, "SD Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Somehow Plagiarized Biographical Sentence," BuzzFeed, 2014.09.25].

I'm going to do Wismer one favor and not quote the rest of her apology, which starts to turn back into an excuse that she should not be making. Just stop right there. Someone on the team stole text. Stealing text is bad. Heads have rolled. I'm sorry.

I want to compare Pat and me again on our willingness to hold the captain of the ship responsible... but no. I don't get a tidy conclusion or a message focused on the argument that Democrats are winning, because some Democratic meathead did something really, really stupid.

Some meathead plagiarized. Meathead's boss will now catch all sorts of crap... and deserve it.


  1. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.25

    Susan Wismer simply needs to blame Richard Benda for this recklessness, it is the thing to do, right?

  2. lesliengland 2014.09.25

    i love to bash the younger generation who practice ageism in hiring practices: perhaps this kid has technical prowess yet can not write!?

  3. John 2014.09.25

    Yes, in this context the use of recycled words are unfortunate for several reasons, not all of which receive discussion, above and won't here.

    Yet, the plagiarism police should take a deeper breathe. Plagiarism is virtually ignored in court briefs, verbal arguments (except when the cause of action), and is ENCOURAGED in military orders and directives. Plagiarism is virtually demanded, if not the "school solution" highly encouraged for writing military plans, orders, and support annexes. No one "paraphrases" or wastes the print to attribute the command authority or high headquarters written orders or concept of operations or concept of support - the stakes are too high to accept an incorrect or less-than-perfect paraphrase or implication or wastes time on whatever is the acceptable citation rule-of-the-day. When less serious, in military academia for example, then the polite rules of academic plagiarism kick in, Note MT senator wanna be, Walsh's careless mistake.

  4. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.25

    When will politicians one of the first rules of politics?

    When you or your team makes a mistake, it is ultimately the responsibility of the candidate or office holder. You own the mistake in no uncertain terms, don't explain it, you will only make things worse.

  5. lesliengland 2014.09.25

    ricks says his 1st order of business will be a constitutional amendment taking big money out of elections; susan, admittedly due to a late campaign start, is playing catch-up.

    her determination in Tidemann's GOAC "meeting" (rather than a formal investigatory hearing), to get at the truth despite republican obstruction, portends a change in South Dakota leadership we can all be proud of.

  6. Donald Pay 2014.09.25

    Desperation time in the Republican bunker? This is just the latest nationwide Republican campaign strategy, because they have awful records to run on, and many of their big name Governors are behind. This same tactic was tried here in Wisconsin against Mary Burke. Some campaign consultant used the same text in several campaigns. She fired the consultant, but all that happened was he gathered the best ideas from a number of states and used them in several Democratic campaigns. Christ, the Republicans enact ALEC model legislation word-for-word across half the states in the nation. Pitty Pat won't ever talk about that, now will he?

  7. Donald Pay 2014.09.25

    The fact is the South Dakota Republicans are plagiarizing the Wisconsin Republicans who pulled this trick a week ago.

  8. Joseph Nelson 2014.09.25

    Still being active duty, I do not think what the military does in regards to duplicating lines of text in OPORDs, orders, DA Forms, directives, et cetera... is plagiarism. A key piece of plagiarism is passing off someone else's work as one's own original work. Since we are mandated to write clearly and concisely, it is efficient to reuse language that effectively communicates the correct idea. It rather encourages the military community to work together to write better, because when someone does right a better bullet point, they share it with the rest of us. It is not stealing another person's idea if they are freely giving it.

    When it comes to those times where original thought is needed and expected (awards, biographies, speeches), I have never witnessed plagiarism, since those types of documents and narratives are too specific to the individual.

  9. MAW 2014.09.26

    You do realize that all 3 candidates that have similar messaging used the same consultant, right? Doesn't excuse it,but alters the situation some.

  10. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Yeah, it's kind of a cheap shot. For example, just Google "young people are our state's greatest asset" a phrase Mike Rounds uses on his website. You'll find lots of politicians using it. Because it's a "talking point" and politicians know they have to "stay on message."

    Consultants who use those same phrases typically get them from "think tanks" who have tested the specific language to find out which specific words work best to inspire the desired attitudes and behavior. And those consultants work for multiple candidates and are hired to some degree BECAUSE they already know what words and phrases are the right ones to use.

    Anyone with a little spare time and a mean spirit could go through all of the campaigns Mr. Powers works on and find dozens of instances where the same words and phrases have been used for multiple candidates, and start raising holy hell.

    But we all know what's going on don't we? Partisan politics isn't literature class, and it's not scientific discovery where one lays claim to the propriety of ones ideas and the expression of same.

    It is political sloganeering (aka "branding"), and parties actively encourage their members to use the exact same words and phrases from campaign to campaign. It's especially disingenuous of Powers to claim that they do not or should not.

    That said, it would be refreshing to hear an inspiring original thought every once in a while, wouldn't it Cory?

    Suppose it would garner any votes?

    Dunno, better focus group it.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.26

    No, I don't realize that, MAW. Who is this consultant, and why is this consultant not out front explaining why he/she is laying this kind of land mine for the candidate? And why is this consultant not good enough to come up with original content for each candidate?

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.26

    Bill, do we really focus group these things down to the exact wording? And would a focus group of South Dakota voters really produce exactly the same results as a focus group of voters in Wisconsin or Texas?

  13. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Absolutely, Cory. People who can afford the research do. One of the tenants of direct marketing is "test, test, test."

    Typically an advertiser will try three or four different "pitches" in different, but similar environments (magazines, mailing lists, etc.) and find the language that works best to sell an offer. Then the ad that pulls best is selected and the others dropped. Finally, variations on the one that worked best are tested until "you find one that pulls 15 times better." That's the ad that gets "rolled out." (And, of course the one your competitor tries to copy ;).

    Those are standard, industry direct marketing techniques, but the same objectives, strategies and tactic are used in politics. The only difference is, in politics, the "store" is only open one day a year.

  14. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Cory, do you really believe Mike Rounds thinks that "young people are our state's greatest asset"?

  15. Charlie Hoffman 2014.09.26

    Bill young people really aren't our greatest asset though it sounds good. Families are. Young people are just brains full of mush. Oops that's Limbaughs line.

  16. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    "would a focus group of South Dakota voters really produce exactly the same results as a focus group of voters in Wisconsin or Texas?"

    ...probably not. Depends on what's being tested.

    Some of what happened on Wismer's site is likely a matter of her trusting the writer to accurately represent in language who she is and what she stands for.

    The "word for word" match from one site to the next certainly does look like a cut and paste job. If she gave that direction to her consultant "just cut and paste from so-and-so's bio" it would still be up to the consultant to get an okay from the other candidate's campaign before proceeding.

    Conversely, if the same consultant wrote all the copy for everybody, it's not really stealing, is it? And if the other candidates have no complaint about the borrowed language, has there really been a foul?

  17. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Charlie great examples of good and bad talking points and how different words work for different audiences. LOL

  18. JeniW 2014.09.26

    Young people become an asset when they contribute to the state's revenue, and when they register to vote.

  19. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Personally, I don't think any of us are "assets of the State." I think the State belongs to its people, not vice versa. That's how it goes with talking points though.

    Nobody challenges the obvious leftist, socialist, statism inherent in Rounds assertion. Why? Because, like Charlie says, "it sounds good." Sure does. A lot better than "son, Im the governor of your state, and I own you." ;-)

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.26

    Good question, Bill. I'd like to hear the Texas, Wisconsin, and South Dakota candidates hold a joint press conference and say, "You bet we're saying the same thing! We are part of a unified campaign. We hold the same beliefs, we see the same problems in our states, and we all three want to bring Democratic female common sense to our statehouses. Vote for us, and we'll lead the governors of this country to good government!"

  21. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Me too, Cory, because I have a hunch that's what's really going on.

  22. mike from iowa 2014.09.26

    I believe the children are our future teach them well and let them lead the way. Now sue me.

    The only reason this gets so much as a groan from anyone is because Dems have a conscience and whitey wingnut don't. Which is a good thing as it seperates the good guys from the bad.

  23. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Good one Mike. Now how about this one:

    "Ask not what Joop can do for South Dakota, ask what South Dakota can do for Joop."

  24. MAW 2014.09.26

    If you read the comments on buzzfeed article someone gives the name of the consultant and from there some googling provided me with an article that Burke fired him over it and if you dig some more he does/did have connections with Davis and Wismer campaigns.

  25. mike from iowa 2014.09.26

    Bill, I believe with all my heart Bollen has figured out what South Dakota can do for Joop-over and over and over again. Attribution to the Dave Clark 5.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.26

    Ah, but when you create words for someone else, Bill, are the words yours anymore? The self-plagiarism defense perhaps disappears when you're under contract and your intellectual property becomes your client's.

  27. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Typically the contracts aren't "work for hire" Cory. The client gets "use rights" but not the copyright. If the creator is "on staff" then yes, the copyrights belong to the employer, but if it's contracted out, the client only owns the copyrights if the language "work for hire" or other language that secures the copyright in writing is present in the contract agreement. Most of the time it's not. (See 1978 Copyright Law.)

  28. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    If you sell one of your paintings to someone else, you still retain the copyright, Cory. It's surprising how many art buyers don't understand this.

  29. DR 2014.09.26

    Who cares. She isn't the first. She isn't the last. Move on.

  30. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.26

    The only time children, or adults for that matter, are assets to the state is when it comes to counting them for the census. South Dakota needs all those bodies to get federal dollars to continue their moocher state status.

    Naturally, this is the only time the state counts Indians.

  31. El Rayo X 2014.09.26

    Who cares. She isn't the first. She isn't the last. Move on.

  32. Douglas Wiken 2014.09.26

    Bill raises a good point. We are not assets for the state,instead, the state should be an asset for all of us rather than just for the connected few.

  33. qlz 2014.09.26

    Cory, i completely agree with you. It is plagiarism, it is dishonest and lazy. If the plagiarized content came from a consultant, Wismer should, at the very least, get her money back, and the individual should acknowledge responsibility, and Wismer should have immediately and vigorously repudiated it. Instead, we get to hear Wismer's initial comment ("This isn't academia. This is politics. We all do what we can to save time") on SD Public Radio! Who does she think her constituents are?! for cryin' out loud.
    Sadly, dishonesty, and acceptance, even expectation of it, seems to be increasingly prevalent.

  34. Daniel Buresh 2014.09.26

    Cory, didn't you steal the City of Madison logo to modify it for you own blog? Just like Wismer did with her text?

  35. larry kurtz 2014.09.26

    Mike Rounds and Denny Daugaard helped two guys steal $120 million then directed at least $110 million in Future Fund cash to campaign donors.

  36. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    I've always assumed Cory uses the Madison logo because that's what communities like Madison want them to do when they develop a brand to promote themselves.

    When South Dakota developed the "Great Places, Great Faces" brand, they sent it out to everybody and encourage ubiquitous usage by all SD citizenry and SD commercial enterprises, and to modify it to suit. And lots of people did just that.

    Those community brands belong to the people who paid taxes to pay for them, Daniel. That presumably includes Cory. Has the City ever expressed any objection to his use?

    If not, are you perhaps just joking? Trolling?

  37. Douglas Wiken 2014.09.26

    She should have said, "I am not proud. I will use good ideas wherever I find them and share them with you."

  38. Daniel Buresh 2014.09.26

    Bill, can you change the South Dakota text? Rotate it? Split it apart and add a few characters to fit your needs? Do you think adding clown faces to Mt Rushmore element of the logo is going to promote SD? I just find it a bit hypocritical. Modifying text or imagery from its intended purpose and passing it off as your own is wrong. Use the logo as it is intended to be displayed or don't use it at all.

  39. larry kurtz 2014.09.26

    DB, ala KiYi coopting a culture to rewrite history: pick a lane, buddy.

  40. Kellie Marie 2014.09.26

    It was my fault. I botched it.

  41. Bill Fleming 2014.09.26

    Daniel, on the flip side, if Cory says what he has done is a work of satire, he can do any damn thing he wants to with it.

  42. JeniW 2014.09.26

    Is the logo legally copyrighted by and owned by the City of Madison, South Dakota?

  43. JeniW 2014.09.26

    Thank you Bill, it looks like Cory legally, as expected, and as usual, has covered his butt. :)

    The wiki source reminded me of those movies that were spoofs of all those Airplane movies.

  44. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.26

    Kelly: really? If so, please explain the work process that lead to this product.

    Satire, Daniel. Irrelevant to the problem at hand.

  45. Daniel Buresh 2014.09.28

    And if Susan wants to copy text, she can do it as well. No one said anything was legally against the law, just shady and unprofessional. Cory knows the original owner doesn't want him to use it, and most other parody artists have enough respect to ask those people for permission. The logo is not owned by the city, but use is donated by the person who created it. Making income off of someone else's charity and creativity. Call it what you want but it is unprofessional and calling out Wismer for doing the same thing the writer did is highly hypocritical.

  46. Bill Fleming 2014.09.28

    LOL Daniel, if you think parody artists ask the people they are going to parody for permission before they go ahead and do it, one has to wonder what kind of wacky weed you have been smoking. :-)

  47. Bill Fleming 2014.09.28

    Pretty sure Thomas Nast didn't contact Boss Tweed before doing his parodies of him, but perhaps the astute Buresh can provide us with documentation to back up his assertions.

    While he's at it, let's see the permissions from all the people SNL and John Stewart have parodied over the years. And maybe Jim Cary's permission to do his Clint Eastwood impressions. Should be interesting.

  48. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.28

    Oh, Dan, you're always more interested in attacking me than in discussing the broader issues. You should give up, because you compound your ignorance and laziness with a failure to come up with any effective attacks against me. You keep whining and moaning about the same old personal gripes, but I'm still here, and more and more people read what I write. Why don't you just give up on that personal tack and join the big leagues with some discussion of the real political issues at hand?

    Bill makes clear your assertion that parody requires permission is bogus. You're thinking too much like the Madison insiders whose bottom-brown stains your nose. Even if a permission request would be polite, from whom does one seek such permission? You just said the logo isn't owned by the city. If it's been donated, then no one has claim to it. It belongs to all of us. It's pretty much like a city park: I can take pictures there, circulate petitions, hand out leaflets, call the mayor a meathead, and there's no plagiarism or co-optation of text or anything else.

    There is no hypocrisy or unprofessionalism here because Wismer's plagiarism of campaign text and my satirical use of a modified logo are nothing like each other. I use my logo to acknowledge my hometown and the roots of this blog. That logo symbolizes what this blog has been about from the beginning: challenging the powers that be and their shining happy narratives and artifice.

    Wismer's campaign was not cleverly satirizing candidates in Wisconsin or Texas. Wismer's campaign was not acknowledging any kinship or out-state philosophical roots. Wismer's campaign was not playing for any visual metaphor. Wismer's campaign wasn't even trying to torque off you or Darin Namken. Wismer's campaign was just being stupid.

    That issue and your endless and fruitless (really, Dan, what does it get you?) need to attack me are completely unrelated. You can keep trying if it makes you happy. But as I've said from the beginning: I'm not the news. The stories I write about are much bigger than me. The stories I write are about South Dakota. If you focused on South Dakota instead of on me, Dan, you might enjoy yourself here more. You might even learn something.

Comments are closed.