With scandal plaguing the White House, it’s prime time to raise money if you’re a Republican in Congress. The opportunity is too good to pass up.
So Rep. Kristi Noem has sent out a fundraising appeal, and I’m sure the same template is being used by other congressional Republicans. The appeal highlights the Benghazi controversy, the uproar over the IRS targeting conservative nonprofits and, get this, the Justice Department’s decision to secretly obtain the phone records from Associated Press reporters and offices, something you’d expect from the Russian government.
Conservatives have a deep distrust of the “Lamestream Media,” and there is nothing more mainstream than the Associated Press. So it’s funny, to me, to see a conservative Republican using the attack on the AP to raise money.
Here’s an excerpt of her letter:
President Obama and his allies can always be counted on for rhetoric that doesn’t match reality, but do they really think they can just talk their way out of anything? They have…
- Deceived the public from day one on Benghazi.
- Pleaded ignorance about the systematic, and illegal, singling-out of conservative groups by the IRS.
- Now, they’re mum about who sought to obtain two months’ worth of AP phone records.
This is not just their typical Chicago-style politics. This Administration is out of control and must be stopped.
I’m standing strong against the Obama Administration’s smokescreens and lies. I’m pushing for the creation of a special committee to investigate the Benghazi terror attack. And I’m cosponsoring legislation to stop Obama’s IRS from discriminating against conservative groups by making it a crime to do so.
George McGovern has been dead seven months, and his friends and family will finally gather next month to bury him.
McGovern’s grave-side service will take place on June 3 at the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m.
In the wake of a scandal in which IRS officials admit that rogue agents targeted conservative groups, Sen. John Thune is demanding that Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, resign.
From a Thune press release:
After reviewing the official IRS IG report released yesterday, which confirmed that top IRS officials knew about the agency’s harassment of conservative groups for over a year before it was made public, I am calling on Acting Commissioner Steven Miller to step down immediately,” said Thune. “The report indicates that the abuse of power in targeting certain Americans went on for at least an 18-month period, and any IRS official who knew about this misconduct but remained silent should be fired immediately. For the administration that claimed to be the ‘most transparent in history,’ the Obama administration’s credibility gap continues to grow at an alarming rate. This sort of breach of public trust is at best the result of incompetence and at worst the result of potentially illegal and malicious conduct.
UPDATE: Republicans are on message and Miller is going to take heat. Rep. Kristi Noem has sent out a similar release. Except she’s calling on the president to fire Miller.
Well, with Stephanie Herseth Sandlin choosing to sit out the U.S. Senate race, I felt it was time to ask Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether if he was giving the race any consideration.
And why shouldn’t he? After all, he’s the mayor of the biggest city in the state.
Here’s what he emailed me:
I truly feel the best way I can serve Sioux Falls and South Dakota right now is to focus on being an incredibly hard working Mayor for the citizens of Sioux Falls. I love the progress we have made, I am thrilled by the confidence of the people and I am pumped about all of the things we are getting done. However, the job is not finished!
Soooo. He’s not flat out saying no. But it doesn’t sound likely that he would enter the race. At least, not now.
But, things can change.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard is set to name a replacement for Rep. Patty Miller, who resigned. The governor’s office is apparently sending word to those who won’t be appointed.
Word comes that Ann Tornberg won’t get the appointment. No surprise there. She’s a Democrat. However, she almost won a seat, losing to Miller by a mere 124 votes, so she could make a strong case that voters liked her.
Nor, apparently, did Kevin Jensen, a Republican who came in third in the Republican primary. Jensen made the announcement on his website. Doesn’t sound like he’s happy.
I did not receive the appointment from the Governor. I guess I am too conservative for their agenda.
Still, Jensen promises to press on to the 2014 election.
Former Gov. Mike Rounds took a hit today on the conservative news site The Daily Caller. A story there examined the former governor’s position on open government.
My colleague, David Montgomery, has a summary of the Caller’s article over at Political Smokeout.
The basis of the DC’s article is an open records request submitted by a “Democratic group” that made an extensive request for materials related to his time as governor. I haven’t seen the request, but the article summarizes it as records for “all official correspondence, including electronic, from or on behalf of Gov. Marion Michael Rounds,” records related to the fourth-floor renovation of the Capitol and the governor’s new mansion, records related to the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab at Homestake, “correspondence regarding inmate files,” and “monthly reports from the Office of Executive Management.”
Now, as somebody who makes frequent open records requests at the local, state and federal levels, I’ll say this about the Democratic group’s request: Massive. And, frankly, probably abusive. I’m an advocate of open government, obviously, but I’ve seen the laws abused by cranks and conspiracy theorists who make massive, unfocused requests, just to make government officials work. The Democratic group’s request appears to be a giant fishing net.
But, The Daily Caller is correct about how Rounds was not a big fan of open government. The Argus Leader, myself included, fought numerous battles with the state under Rounds’ tenure for the release of basic government information that, in other states, is routinely available. The simplest requests often became a slog and an exercise in trench warfare.
Recall, the Argus Leader sued just to get a list of those invited to the governor’s annual pheasant hunt. We lost in the Supreme Court because, at the time, state law required only the disclosure of records required under law to be kept by government. The Supreme Court’s opinion is here.
In 2009, the Legislature passed a new open records bill that kind of sort of caught up with the rest of the nation by presuming that government records were open, unless specifically closed by the Legislature. The problem with the new law was that it specifically closed whole classes of records that, again, are routinely open in other states. The exempted records included government correspondence, schedules and calendars.
As The Daily Caller notes, the only way lawmakers could get the new bill into law was by meeting Rounds’ demands that a lot of records not be subjected to disclosure.
On balance, the new law was good. But, from an open government perspective, it was unfortunate that it included so many exemptions. As a media representative on last year’s open government task force, I pushed to get some of these exemptions repealed. But after 16 years under Bill Janklow and Rounds, the culture of state government is one of secrecy. And there was no stomach among others on the task force to repeal some of those exemptions.
Open government is a real problem for Rounds. In his worldview, government is like a private business rather than an institution that works for the people. In my worldview, the people are the masters of the government, and, with a few exceptions, the people should have full access to what their government is doing.
Still, this is unlikely to be a major political handicap for Rounds. South Dakotans are generally very trusting in their government institutions. They seem to have no problem with the fact that so many records are unavailable to the public.
Given his view on open government, maybe the Senate is the perfect place for Rounds.Why? When Congress passed the federal Freedom of Information Act, it exempted itself from the act’s provisions.
Ryan Casey, the man who started the Draft Brendan Johnson movement, is no longer with Raven Industries, where he’d been a military analyst for the company the last few years. Casey told me via email that he resigned.
He is also the chair of the Lincoln County Democrats, and he said he’s working on a “pet project on the political front.” And he anticipates flying more with his Naval reserve squadron.
Potentially, there’s a lot going on here. And the conspiracies are bound to get revved up. Casey told my colleague, David Montgomery, last month that he never talked to Stephanie Herseth Sandlin before launching the Draft Brendan movement. Herseth Sandlin has been general council there for several months. And, given her status as the senior Democrat in the state, it might have been nice to consult her first.
There had to have been some awkwardness there at Raven, and maybe that led to Casey’s departure.
Or, there’s a chance that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee got involved. The DSCC is ruthless at instilling order in its races, something the Republicans fail to do, which is why the GOP nominates so many kooks and ghouls. Herseth Sandlin was, and is, the DSCC’s preferred candidate. Meanwhile, Casey was the public face whipping up support for Johnson, a “progressive” for progressive Democrats. At the same time this was happening, the progressives were scorning Herseth Sandlin.
Raven gets a lot of revenue from federal contracts. It’s conceivable that Casey angered some powerful people in Washington. I’ll let your imagination roam from there.
Or, maybe all of this is a coincidence, and the job was a drag, so Casey decided to move on.
I’m pretty confident about this, however. We haven’t seen the last of Ryan Casey. He is a bright light on the horizon for Democrats. He’s only 34 and he’s got a political future (His father, Dick Casey, who is thought of as one of the smartest lawyers around, lost to Herseth Sandlin in the 2002 primary).
Montgomery asked him about his future last week. Here’s what he said:
“I’m certainly interested in public service and have long been interested in politics. You can’t help but be when you’re in the miltiary, and there’s things like wars happening. You feel very touched by public policy. It’s definitely been something that’s been important
“I don’t know that I’m considering anything in the real near term, but it’s definitely something I’ve thought about and may very well be interested in the future”
Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s work load keeps getting heavier as he seeks replacements for resigning lawmakers.
First Rep. Patty Miller, a McCook Lake Republican who resigned in March. Then came Rep. Jon Hansen of Dell Rapids, another Republican who is leaving in August to attend law school.
Now word comes that a Republican in the state Senate is leaving early. Keep in mind, the last election to which they all won their seats was only six months ago.
But I guess lives change, things come up. And the measly $6,000 a year that lawmakers earn isn’t a huge inducement to hang around when something bigger comes up.
Some controversies never seem to go away. Democrats are upset about taxpayers supporting the dues and travel to ALEC, a conservative organization financed by corporations. David Montgomery has a good story on the issue here.
By request, I’m posting a story that we ran on Feb. 28, 2010.
South Dakota taxpayers spent almost $220,000 in the past five years sending lawmakers to meetings sponsored by a conservative group that supports free-market policies.
That money didn’t cover all the travel costs, however.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, with the help of business partners, also helped pay for state lawmakers to attend conferences where proposals for new laws are developed.
How much they spent, and which corporations are involved, is not known.
That’s because South Dakota - unlike many other states - doesn’t require lawmakers to report the money, or even the existence of these trips.
Driven by a growing budget deficit, legislators in recent weeks debated whether to put more restrictions on taxpayer-funded out-of-state travel.
Missing from that debate was discussion of travel paid for by business or special-interest groups. South Dakota lawmakers in recent years have traveled to Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and conferences in the U.S. - all without any documentation.
The lack of reporting can make lawmakers susceptible to influence from special interests, an open government advocate said.
“We should know who writes checks, or who gives gifts to our elected officials, and that should be public record,” said Reynold Nesiba, an economics professor at Augustana College.
Participants at the ALEC gatherings don’t merely influence legislation, they help create it. Lawmakers sit side-by-side with industry representatives to draft proposals. They bring those proposals back and try to make them laws.
Trips sponsored by ALEC offer a glimpse into the travel practices of some South Dakota lawmakers. Some of the legislators cite their value.
Industry’s stake in writing legislation
Former state Rep. Hal Wick said it’s important that industry groups are at the table when legislation is created.
The South Dakota Legislature has a cap on the number of lawmakers who can use taxpayer money to attend ALEC conferences. So ALEC - through its business members - paid for some lawmakers to go to conferences.
Wick wanted more lawmakers to have the opportunity to attend, so he set out to raise what he calls scholarship money. He sent letters to businesses asking for their help: Pharmacy companies, automotive manufacturers, utilities, tobacco companies and the alcohol industry all were on the list.
He also organized an annual hunt in South Dakota. There’s no charge for the hunt, but lobbyists are asked for donations of $100 to $500.
“I raised dollars from anywhere I could,” Wick said.
No requirement to report trips in S.D.
The difficulty in finding out details of the trips extends beyond ALEC or any other single group. Lobbyists, trade groups, businesses and foreign governments can pay to fly lawmakers around the nation or the world. But there are no records of those trips because lobbyists and lawmakers are not required to report them under South Dakota law.
5 years, $900,000 in taxpayer-paid trips
Earlier this month, Rep. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, proposed a two-year suspension of taxpayer-funded, out-of-state trips. Since 2005, lawmakers have spent about $900,000 on such travel.
Republicans in the House State Affairs Committee killed Krebs’ bill 8-4 in a hearing where the pros and cons of taxpayer-funded travel were debated. But travel paid by special interest groups was not part of the debate.
Though it’s impossible to know whether the groups paying to fly lawmakers are trying to influence public policy, it’s clear that lawmakers - particularly those in leadership positions - get solicitations to attend.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Knudson said he gets invitations, but he’s rejected them. “Going out of state for legislative boondoggles is not in the cards,” he said.
“I’ve gotten invitations to this deal or that deal that typically say some group is willing to pay for it,” Knudson said. “I can say I’ve never attended anything like that, but I can say there are some opportunities. I don’t know how widespread they are.”
Former Rep. Joel Dykstra took a trip financed by the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry to participate in a panel discussion in Florida. Dykstra, who left the House in 2008, did not recall the exact time of the trip, but he said it happened after voters rejected a measure that would have repealed the gross receipts tax on wireless companies in 2006.
Dykstra, one of the leaders in the fight to repeal the tax, said he was invited to share his perspective on the issue during two panel discussions. The association paid for his airfare and a couple nights in a hotel.
The experience, he said, helped him better understand issues in the industry.
“It’s all about providing information on issues,” Dykstra said. “It is valuable to talk to regulators and industry representatives.”
‘You get a lot of offers’ to travel
The government of Taiwan also has paid for South Dakota lawmakers to travel there. Senate President Bob Gray said he’s been invited but never has gone. Because of the lack of reporting requirements, it is not known exactly how many South Dakota lawmakers have traveled to Taiwan or other countries.
“You get a lot of offers,” Gray said. Many come through the state’s membership with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Rep. Joni Cutler traveled to Saudi Arabia for 10 days in October and November with a grant sponsored by the NCSL through the U.S. Department of State and the Saudi government. She was among 10 state legislators from across the country who participated.
The delegation met with government officials, business leaders, university officials and others, Cutler said. They talked about business opportunities and women’s issues. She still e-mails friends she met there.
“It was such an amazing trip, and one that impacted me personally so much that once I get talking about it, it’s hard for me to shut up,” she said.
Legislator doubts policy influenced
Cutler said she learned that while Saudi Arabia has plenty of money, it needs educated professionals and experts to help build its economy. That’s where South Dakota business leaders can help.
Cutler said she doubts lobbyists or interest groups are trying to influence policy here.
“As far as junkets with lobbyists, I can’t think of anybody who has been on a trip like that, and maybe that’s why we’ve never bothered about it,” she said of reporting requirements.
“Maybe lobbyists just don’t care that much about South Dakota. That kind of thing, as far as I know, just doesn’t happen.”
But influence peddling through travel has happened elsewhere. At the national level, lobbyist Jack Abramoff flew elected officials, their families and staffers to exotic locations around the world in a bid to influence policy.
Corporate and lobbyist-paid trips for state lawmakers are becoming more common as states cut their budgets for taxpayer-funded trips, said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. And that’s troubling, he said, because the sponsors of those trips want something in return.
“I actually think it’s a bigger problem than when the taxpayers pay for it,” Stern said.
Other states require disclosure of trips
Many states require lawmakers to disclose those trips. In California, for example, lawmakers must file annual disclosure forms in which they detail personal finances and whether they took any trips sponsored by a group or organization. They also must report any gifts. Some states bar the practice.
In South Dakota, financial disclosure documents are required only of candidates for office. Legislators are not barred from flying, eating, drinking or playing golf on a lobbyist’s dime.
“As long as it’s not in the nature of a bribe - if it’s not in that context, there’s no prohibition,” said Secretary of State Chris Nelson.
Conservative group prompts skepticism
The conferences sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council offer a window into the world of third-party financed trips for South Dakota lawmakers.
ALEC describes itself as an alternative organization to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments. The three groups all work on policy proposals, and lawmakers in South Dakota are members of all groups.
But ALEC is different in a couple of ways. Business can buy memberships into the group for $7,000 a year, and nonprofits for $3,500 a year, said Jorge Amselle, the group’s spokesman. Memberships on task forces cost thousands more. Lawmakers, meanwhile, pay just $50 a year.
The names of the businesses that belong to ALEC are confidential. But what isn’t secret is the group’s political stance.
“We are unique in that we involve the private sector as equal members in drafting model legislation,” Amselle said. “We’re free-market oriented. We don’t make any secret about that.”
Lawmakers and business representatives work together to draft proposals that go to legislatures across the country. Democrats in South Dakota are suspicious of the group. Earlier this month, they tried to end taxpayer-funded trips to ALEC conferences.
But Wick sees the group as a positive. ALEC, he said, is different than other groups because of its conservative leanings, and that’s a good thing. Other groups include government bureaucrats as members, while ALEC doesn’t. ALEC is interested in trimming government while the other groups want to grow government, Wick said.
“To me it’s a counterbalance that’s really necessary,” he said. “We don’t want to put every business out of business.”
Rep. Steve King, the outspoken and extremely conservative member of Congress from northwest Iowa, has been kicking around the idea of running for his party’s nomination for next year’s open seat in the U.S. Senate. To more mainstream conservatives, the prospect is alarming. King might win among Republicans, but he would have a tougher slog in the general.
And he’s said some colorful things in the past that would be dug up and used against him. To many Republicans, King would cost the party another U.S. Senate seat in the way the GOP lost them last year in Missouri and Indiana.
Well, King, who is also a fiscal conservative, just got a boost of sorts from The New York Times. Friday, the Times published a massive investigation into the Pigford settlements made first with black farmers, and later expanded to include Hispanics, women and Native Americans, who claimed they had been discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The piece was first-rate investigative journalism.
King, it pointed out, was raising questions about fraudulent claims years ago. And it turns out, the Times found, that there was a lot of fraud. Indeed, this is the kind of story that will likely generate calls for congressional investigations.
And King was an early critic, warning of problems. This gives King a boost in his bid to win his party’s Senate nomination, should he run.