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Rep. Gibson Calls for State Ethics Commission

Rep. Peggy Gibson (D-22/Huron) is ready to do some serious work in Pierre this session. Responding to her legislative colleagues' inaction on the EB-5 scandal, Rep. Gibson writes in last Wednesday's Plainsman that South Dakota needs an ethics commission to combat both corruption in government and cynicism among the voters:

Did you know that South Dakota has neither comprehensive state ethics laws nor an ethics commission to oversee state officials and bureaucrats? In fact, South Dakota is one of only nine states that lack an ethics commission. Ethics commissions are established in either state statute or the constitution and provide external oversight of ethics laws.

Ethics commissions represent the public's interest and have a similar purpose: to ensure that groups under their jurisdiction follow state ethics laws. As regulatory entities, ethics commissions have various powers and duties, including investigating complaints of violations of ethics laws, providing advisory opinions to individuals under the commission's jurisdiction and offering ethics training. Many commissions have the power to prosecute and/or levy sanctions on the offender [Rep. Peggy Gibson, "News from the House," Huron Plainsman, print edition, 2014.12.03].

The Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee proved itself unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute clear violations of conflict-of-interest rules and state law by players in the EB-5 program. Players throughout state government have been involved in the EB-5 mess, which has evidently made it hard to get any state agency to take the proper action against ethical violations. The Attorney General's office has known about ethical violations associated with EB-5 since 2009 and has refused to take action.

The dereliction of duty our Attorney General and Legislature have shown on EB-5 only heightens cynicism about government. Rep. Gibson cites this 2010 article from the National Conference of State Legislatures to warn us of how cynicism makes our politics worse:

Cynicism discourages qualified people from running for office, promotes a reluctance by members to address unpopular but necessary issues, encourages simplistic institutional reforms such as term limits, and increases the public’s unwillingness to comply with legislative decisions [Karl Kurtz and Brian Weberg, "What Legislatures Need Now," NCSL, July/August 2010].

Rep. Gibson believes a strong ethics commission would dispel cynicism and improve South Dakota politics. Establishing such a commission, however, won't be easy. An ethics commission must come either from the Legislature that doesn't want ethical matters investigated or from an initiating electorate whose cynicism may keep them from believing that such a commission could make a difference.

The difficulty of overcoming both cynicism and corruption makes it all the more necessary for reformers like Rep. Gibson to speak up and fight for an ethics commission.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, column, Huron Plainsman, 2014.12.03
Rep. Peggy Gibson, column, Huron Plainsman, 2014.12.03

p.s.: Speaking of integrity, Rep. Gibson should check with the editors at the Plainsman, who appear to have misplaced some vital quotation marks in her column. The passage I quote above properly appears in quotation marks in the print edition I'm reading. However, the sentences before that passage in Rep. Gibson's column also appear mostly verbatim in Kurtz and Weberg 2010 and should also be enclosed in those quotation marks, lest anyone throw a plagiarism flag.


  1. Tim 2014.12.08

    Ethics committee, our single party legislature? Hahahahaha! That's the funniest thing I have read in months. Hahahaha

  2. tara volesky 2014.12.08

    The GOAC was an absolute joke. I think Peggy has a great idea, but I don't see the dictatorship allowing that. I would keep harping on that issue the whole session. Peggy, use your mouth out in Pierre this session and raise some h*ll. lol

  3. mike from iowa 2014.12.08

    This is one idea wingnuts can shoot down as a waste of taxpayer money. What's the point of another GOAC? Majority control of the state gets you exactly nowhere . You need independent,outsiders to get to the bottom of this. Let me ad they should have subpoena powers and a free hand to investigate any and all parties thoroughly. Not gonna happen.

  4. tara volesky 2014.12.08

    Exactly Mike. That's what Peggy intends to do, getting independent outsiders.

  5. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.08

    I taught the Junior Achievement Ethics curriculum to 11th graders last Friday. They really enjoy discussing what is ethical, what is moral, what is right, and what is wrong. Then some of them get elected, head to Pierre, and forget all about what is ethical, moral or right. Just crazy that we have such a propensity for exhibiting such qualities of weakness in supposedly regionally respected people. Is greed such an elixir that they forgot everything they learned? I will be honest, I do not recall this when I was growing up, and I do not see it in the hundreds of college students I work with. Why such a concentration of it in one political party?

  6. tara volesky 2014.12.08

    Dr. Pauli, I think you would be a great appointment to the ethics commission.

  7. Vickie 2014.12.08

    Excellent idea and I hope that Rep. Gibson can get some of her colleagues on board to agree with her. An ethics commission is sorely needed. Sadly,I'm not at all optimistic that many/any of them are going to want anyone keeping tabs on their ethics and assorted shenanigans.

  8. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.08

    Peggy is a lady after my own heart, corruption will continue in South Dakota as long as the legislature fails to have an active ethics board or committee with full investigative, subpoena power. and a right to appoint a special prosecutor if needed.
    I hope Peggy looks at some of the states that are at the bottom of the list of most corrupt states and develops a template for how they manage corrupt politicians and state employees.
    Naturally the Republican crony capitalist in Pierre will shoot down any legislation to reform themselves, but that does mean she should stop or slow her efforts.
    If those fine upstanding Christian Republican legislators had an ounce of integrity, they should get behind Peggy and do some real work.

  9. grudznick 2014.12.08

    Sounds like a board of witch hunters with blood on their mind and daggers in their hands if you ask me, Mr. C. I think it's a dandy idea.

  10. Roger Cornelius 2014.12.08

    If that's what we need grudz, damn straight and go for it.

  11. leslie 2014.12.08

    "WITCH HUNT" is an effective epithet in NJ where repubs are castigating the legislative investigation "at public expense" in the very similar "bridgegate" scandal (similar to EB5's political cover-up), AFTER the witches being hunted spent a cool million dollars of public money investigating themselves with Gov. Chris Christie's best buddy's law heavy weight law firm!!

    i don't know which is more foolish, SD or NJ??

  12. JeniW 2014.12.09

    The City of Sioux Falls has an Ethics committee. None of the members can be city employees. Maybe that is the model that the Legislative Ethics Committee should consist of?

  13. leslie 2014.12.09

    rapid city had some ethics guidelines awhile back. can anyone tell the current status .

    very important issue, considering recent models like 2006-07 mortgage industry, followed by 07-08 investment bankers, followed by 08-09 republican obstruction and whats likely been happening in SCOTUS who should be held up as the high point of integrity to the rest of the nation, world even, but we know what republican politics stands for, and it ain't ethics.

    locally, increased prices at mac donald's are being explained as the result of the minimum wage. franchise owner tells the minimum wage employees that prices went up because of that. right!

  14. WayneF 2014.12.11

    Representative Peggy Gibson's is a voice in the wilderness in a state that has lost its moral compass. Ms. Gibson please continue your mission to restore ethical standards to South Dakota state politics!

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.11

    Wayne, I am curious as to who will assume the female leadership role in the party. In the Legislature, with Wismer and Tyler out, we are down to five Democratic women: Sen. Buhl-O'Donnell, Rep. Hawks, Rep. Soli, Rep. Bartling, and Rep. Gibson. Our ranks are thin!

  16. Tim 2014.12.11

    "locally, increased prices at mac donald's are being explained as the result of the minimum wage. franchise owner tells the minimum wage employees that prices went up because of that. right!"

    I get a kick out of that, just got back from Williston where they start people at 13.50 an hour because they have to to get anybody to work. Menu prices are the same as here, somebody is full of it, guess who.

  17. grudznick 2014.12.11

    It will be Ms. Hawks, Mr. H. But as much as my opinions enrage you, the young Ms. Bartling probably holds your future in her powers.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.11

    (Grudz, you mistake my reaction and your significance.)

  19. grudznick 2014.12.11

    Mr. H, perhaps we all mistake our own reactions and our own significance. I'm just sayin...

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