Come this morning's edition of The Nation and what do we find but a big story titled "Revealed: A New Ethics Scandal Involving The GOP's South Dakota Senate Candidate." Another story involving Mike Rounds and his political associates' ethical behavior is something of an October non-surprise these days, just a few weeks before the election, but the element that does stand out is the fact that the story has nothing to do with the ongoing Slaughterhouse EB-5 fiasco, which has been dogging the Rounds campaign for over a year now. This time it's all about activity that has taken place long since after then-Governor Rounds left office in 2011.
The story goes into some detail, far too lengthy to break down into its elements here. But the gist of it is that Rounds' campaign manager Ron Skjonsberg is a member of a South Dakota state economic development board that last year granted nearly $800 thousand in economic assistance to a company called Novita LLC, along with a couple of extensions as timetables were pushed back, Turns out, according to The Nation, that Skjonsberg runs the investment firm, Lake Sharpe, that has an equity interest in Novita. It also turns out, per information published in The Nation, that Senate candidate Mike Rounds reported in 2013 that he had somewhere between $50k and $100k invested in Lake Sharpe. Is there a conflict of interest here? You decide. Is it a violation of state ethics rules? Sure seems like it.
Responding by e-mail to the piece, Skjonsberg sent The Nation (you can read the full text of the e-mail in my link to the article) a carefully crafted response. In it he says that he has "come to understand that the perception of a conflict of interest has arisen" and that he has "taken steps to ensure the perceived conflict is avoided in the future." The italics are mine. The use of "perception" and "perceived" is very interesting. Does Skjonsberg use those words to imply that, though the "perception" exists, there was no actual conflict of interest? Personally I think he does, but that's just me. You might decide otherwise.
In order to help you along with the decision, I note the following in the article: "[When] asked if the ethics rules prohibiting board conflicts of interests applied to Skjonsberg's votes on the Novita permit extensions, [J. Pat Costello, the Commissioner of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, which oversees the board], answering by e-mail, told the Nation, "yes, the ethics rules apply to all related votes including the extensions."
So what Skjonsberg explains away as a "perception" of a conflict of interest is defined by his overseeing authority as a violation of ethics rules. Is an oversight involving this much money tied to both Skjonsberg and Rounds a plausible scenario, especially considering that the matter came to the board three times? I doubt it. But that's just me. I invite Skjonsberg to set me straight, right here.