The South Dakota House decided Wednesday that a statewide Ethics Commission is a bad idea. Democrats had proposed not even a bill, just a measly resolution, HCR 1006, that called on the Executive Board of the Legislative Research Council to work with the executive and judicial branches to whip up a proposal to reinstate a South Dakota Ethics Commission and propose legislation to that effect for next year's session.
We had a South Dakota Ethics Commission once. Democrats created it under Governor Dick Kneip in 1975. It was supposed to look into campaign activities and audit campaign finance reports. Governor Bill Janklow and resurgent Republicans put a stop to that foolishness in 1979.
Republicans aren't inclined to let such foolishness start again, either. Their arguments against a new Ethics Commission boiled down to...
- Rep. Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown): ethics commissions don't work. "If this idea works, I want a Tom Cruise commission to make us all strong and handsome." That's debatable, say the 41 states who do have ethics commissions.
- Rep. Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City): We have lots of other mechanisms to deal with ethics issues (all of which are controlled by Republicans and thus have a hard time investigating Republicans).
- Rep. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls): The Government Operations and Audit Committee took "an exhaustive amount of testimony" on the EB-5 scandal last year, showing current mechanisms are sufficient. Exhaustive? Perhaps Rep. Mickelson got tired of making excuses and avoiding evidence, but GOAC hardly delved into all of the issues of the EB-5 scandal.
- Rep. Justin Cronin (R-23/Gettysburg): GOAC worked hard and found nothing wrong but Richard Benda's double-billing, and now Richard Benda's dead, so there's no more information to be found, and the whole investigation just led to people "blasting and smearing" our Republican leaders. Ah, yes, the debate did turn to a defense of last year's EB-5 "investigation," which only shows that Rep. Cronin and other nervous Republicans want us to think that "investigating ethics" is just a witch hunt. Rep. Cronin's response also shows the intensity of his devotion to blowing smoke: Do the very alive Joop Bollen, Mike Rounds, and Jeff Sveen really have no knowledge that would illuminate the EB-5 scandal for us?
The vote against HCR 1006 was mostly party line. Democrats did win four Republican supporters: Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-25/Rapid City), Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls), Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen), and Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs). Rep. Hickey complained that Democrats did not seek Republican sponsors for their Ethics Commission resolution. I appreciate Rep. Hickey's vote and those of his three brave colleagues, and I point again to those Mugwumpy Republicans as opportunities for Democrats to forge some unlikely alliances... but I also have to note they are only four out of 58 in the House. The Republican monolith remains mostly united against those of us seeking ethics and accountability.