Governor Kristi Noem denies any involvement in the latest targeting of lawmakers reviewing the impeachment of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.
But lawmakers who received the attack ads say growing evidence suggests otherwise.
Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions, an organization that bills itself as a nonprofit organized to advance the governor’s agenda, began rolling out billboards on Saturday targeting four members of the House Select Committee on Investigation, which is leading the investigation process. verification.
The announcements name the following committee members: Representatives Steven Haugaard, Jamie Smith, Jon Hansen and Spencer Gosch, the Speaker of the House who chairs the committee. The signs also call for Ravnsborg’s impeachment.
Continued:Recording of signals falsifying Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s impeachment process
The legislative panel investigated Ravnsborg’s conduct related to a 2020 crash that killed 55-year-old Joe Boever.
And on Monday, a fifth lawmaker – Rep. Scott Odenbach – was added to the list of lawmakers specifically named in the ads, suggesting the five men are obstructing the impeachment process.
Haugaard and Smith challenge Noem in his re-election campaign. Odenbach is not a member of the impeachment committee.
While the billboards echo public statements made by Noem, his office and campaign deny being behind the billboards or the Dakota Institute. Noem was open about her desire to see Ravnsborg impeached and her frustration with an impeachment process that has dragged on for months.
“Zero relationship,” said Joe Desilets, Kristi’s campaign manager for governor. “Nobody on our team has set up this organization, is running it or anything like that.”
Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions executive director Rob Burgess declined to comment for the article except to say he does not work for Noem or have any direct relationship with her.
However, a press release issued by the organization ahead of the launch of the ad campaign said the 501(c)(4) nonprofit was created, in part, to “generate support for the Governor’s agenda. Noem”.
The organization says it has a budget of $2.3 million to spend through 2024
Beyond Burgess, the details of who is behind the Dakota Institute and who funds it remain a mystery.
There are no listings as a political action committee or other filings on the South Dakota Secretary of State’s online search tool.
However, in a communications expense filing with the secretary of state on Monday, the Dakota Institute said the entire ad campaign cost about $24,000 and listed Springfield, Va., as its primary location.
Continued:Replay: Speaker Gosch, Rep. Karr talk budget, attorney general, and beef with Governor Noem
The men targeted in the ads say that while no paper trail has yet been found linking Noem to the Dakota Institute or the billboards, circumstantial evidence leads them to believe she is involved.
“We should suspend critical thinking to think she has anything to do with these campaign ads against black money,” said Odenbach, the Republican Spearfish who drew the governor’s ire last year when he criticized his resistance to blocking private employers. implementation of COVID-19 vaccination mandates. “Everyone can see that she needs to be involved.”
Odenbach and Gosch, the Glenham Republican who has also sparred with Noem over seemingly unrelated issues in recent weeks, said no denial from the governor can outweigh the fact that she got involved in several times in the potential impeachment of Ravnsborg and the work of the select committee.
They point to Noem’s release of criminal and accident investigation documents related to the 2020 crash prior to its completion.
Public statements made by Governor and Public Safety Secretary Craig Price in recent weeks, in which they said Ravnsborg had lied to law enforcement and was unfit to be attorney general, also illustrate the desire of Noem to see Ravnsborg impeached.
All of this, coupled with a similar pressure campaign targeting the committee in January in which the governor was also involved, suggests that the governor may be behind both attempts to influence the work of the House Select Committee on Investigations.
“That’s what I meant by DC policy is not welcome in South Dakota, and it continues to use them,” Gosch said.
There is also a loose connection between Burgess and an Ohio man named Jonathan Petrea, who spoke in January on behalf of a telemarketing company hired to make a series of phone calls to voters from House Select Committee lawmakers. on Investigation.
Petrea in a phone call with frontman Argus on Monday acknowledged knowing who Burgess was, but denied working with him at any time in his career.
“I know who he is, but I’ve never worked with him or had any business dealings with him,” Petrea said. “He and I have no relationship.”
The House Select Committee on Impeachment also sent a cease and desist letter Monday to the governor’s office in hopes of compelling Noem to cease making public statements or disclosing information regarding Ravnsborg until after the matter is resolved.
The letter alleges that Noem and his administration are trying to taint the committee process, any subsequent voting among the entire House of Representatives and potentially the state Senate, where a trial would take place if the representatives choose to impeach.
Noem and his administration, however, say Gosch and the impeachment committee focused more on why the investigative documents were made public than on the facts of the investigation.
That the governor and her allies, like the Dakota Institute, have so aggressively called for Ravnsborg’s removal raises more questions. And Odenbach, a personal friend of the attorney general, said his addition to the list of targeted lawmakers suggests what he called a “political vendetta” coming from the governor.
Continued:Governor Kristi Noem has until April to deal with claims of nepotism and plane abuse, judges say
His intention is to rid the Ravnsborg Attorney General’s Office, which has opened investigations into Noem’s use of state planes while his involvement in certifying a family member as a property appraiser. by the state, Odenbach said.
“I think she’s looking forward to appointing another AG, before she has to face the Government Accountability Board,” Odenbach said, referring to a group of investigators made up of retired judges who have ongoing investigations opened. on complaints of abuse of power brought against Noem.
The Accountability Committee told Noem she had until April to respond to allegations of nepotism and misuse of aircraft against her.