Former South Dakota Teenage Republican Of The Year-- Is Now The State Legislator Molesting Interns
Heading into the elections in November, the Democrats held 8 of the 35 seats in the South Dakota state Senate. On November 8, they held 6 seats (and none of the 6 had been contested by the GOP). And of the 70 members of the state House, only 10 are Democrats. Every statewide elected official is a Republican and the 3 members of South Dakota's congressional delegation are also Republicans. Trump beat Hillary 227,721 (61.5%) to 117,458 (31.7%). In 2012 Romney won the state, but Obama did far better than Clinton, having taken 144,988 votes (40%). Of the state's 66 counties, Obama won 10; Hillary won 5. The Republicans own South Dakota; the Democrats barely exist there.
Last week the legislature killed a proposal that would have banned the predatory sexual behavior between legislators and their young pages and interns. Conservatives, who believe in the law of the jungle feel they have the right to rape youngsters as a manifestation of their power. When state Senator Stace Nelson, a Republican from Fulton proposed a ban on the behavior, he was rebuffed. Conservatives-- particularly, though not exclusively, Republicans-- are generally extremely hostile to ethics regulations.
A legislative panel voted down a proposed rule change Wednesday that would have explicitly prevented them from engaging in sexual contact with legislative interns and pages.The proposal was defeated in committee 9-4. Ironically, South Dakota voters approved-- 180,580 (51.6%) to 169,220 (48.4%)-- a package of ethics reforms in November and Republican elected officials are working furiously-- and so far successfully-- to block the implementation.
...Nelson said state lawmakers have previously engaged in instances of sexual harassment and sexual contact involving interns and high school pages, with at least one facing charges in 2007 for allegedly groping a legislative page.
"The facts are, this body went through a very public and ugly trial about a decade ago. There's been events in history that indicate these rules should have been put in stone and they haven't," Nelson said. "This is a rule we brought forth to address this so that there is no gray area."
Yesterday, Sioux Falls' Argus Leader, the biggest newspaper in the state, ran a report on right-wing Republican from Madison, Rep. Mathew Wollman, who has been molesting interns. Although he denied the allegations when first confronted with them, he has since admitted his culpability to another right-wing crackpot, House Majority Leader Lee Qualm.
I remember when Mark Foley was caught molesting young interns and let off the hook by a conspiracy between Republican and Democratic leaders in return for him resigning. (Later Foley told me he would take pages to states where the age of consent was lower so he could have sex with them without technically breaking statutory rape laws.) Wollmann is claiming that the interns he molested were "of age" and "consenting." He has admitted he fucked one intern in 2015 and another one last year. He seems bitter that "my reputation was lowered, or perceived to be seen as lowered." Conservatives can't help but play the victim; it's part of the nature of conservatism.
He said he believed both were older than 21, and that he didn't feel he took advantage of his position of power because neither worked for him and both were of consenting age, which is why he thought it was permissible.Yes... "some implications." Elizabeth Warren didn't have South Dakota or it's ethics-free Republican legislature in mind when she wrote her OpEd on the Republican approach to ethics for the Washington Post yesterday. She had Trumpanzee and his crooked cabinet in mind. Trumpanzee "is selecting nominees to run his government," she wrote. "It's no secret that I have deep reservations about the policy views of many of these nominees. I will vote against some of them."
He said he hasn't hired a lawyer to represent him and would consider testifying before the committee if called.
"I can’t express how much I’m embarrassed, I understand these actions are unacceptable and I’ll accept all punitive measures that are decided," Wollmann told reporters. "I’ve tarnished the system and our title, this body as well as my name."
The state's legislative rule book says lawmakers are to avoid all sexual harassment in the workplace, but nothing explicitly prohibits sexual contact with interns or legislative pages.
Wollmann's confession comes a week after a Joint Committee on Legislative Procedure voted down a proposed rule change that would have prohibited sexual contact between lawmakers and interns or pages. House members said during the meeting that they considered sexual contact with high school pages and college interns to be misconduct.
The South Dakota Legislature last dealt with a case of a lawmaker engaging in sexual contact with a page in 2007. At that time, the Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion chose to censure Democratic state Senator Dan Sutton.
Qualm said he wouldn't comment on whether he viewed Wollmann's actions as a violation of House rules as he didn't want to skew the results of the investigating committee's probe.
“There are some implications in there, but that’s why we’re going by the rules, because we want the committee to make the determination,” Qualm said.
But before we can debate and vote on whether these nominees' policy positions make them suitable to run important parts of our government, it is critical that each nominee follows basic ethics rules to ensure that they will act for the benefit of all the American people and not simply to boost their bank accounts.
The Republican-led Congress wants to brush off these ethics requirements as a mere inconvenience. Failing that, they are willing to intimidate the public servants charged with implementing the rules. If they succeed, the Republican-led Congress will erode public confidence in our democracy and set the new administration up for scandal and failure.
It is illegal for any Cabinet member to participate in a government matter that will "affect his own financial interest" or those of his or her family members, or any organization with whom he or she is affiliated. The reason this law exists is obvious: Without it, federal officials might be tempted to pursue their own interests rather than those of the American people, throwing into question the motives behind every move they make.
That is why Republicans and Democrats have embraced these restrictions. The procedures and precedents to enforce them have been followed by generations of American presidents and their Cabinets. Background checks ensure that nominees are free of criminal problems or debilitating foreign connections. Tax returns and financial disclosures reveal potentially damaging information that may undermine fitness to serve. Ethics agreements provide each Cabinet member a detailed, binding and personalized plan for disentangling from any personal and financial conflicts that could create even the appearance of self-dealing while in office.
But Republicans have ignored these safeguards. Betsy DeVos, the billionaire nominated to run the Department of Education despite having virtually no education experience, has not completed her financial disclosures or her ethics agreement. Despite Democrats' numerous attempts to postpone proceedings until these essential documents are provided, Republicans went ahead with DeVos's hearing Tuesday. Without the necessary information, we were unable to fully question the nominee about her many potential conflicts of interest. We were unable to say with confidence that DeVos will put the American people first. And after depriving the American public of even the most basic information on the nominee, Republicans further undercut a thoughtful examination by cutting the hearing short despite several senators pressing to ask additional questions.
When President Obama's nominees were presented to Congress, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) demanded that nominees meet these safeguards-- and they did, no matter who they were or what they had done in the past.
These requirements are even more important today, when Trump's nominees have complex financial histories, deep business ties and billions of dollars invested in the industries they will soon oversee. Complete compliance with the law might require weeks of hard work to identify and root out the many financial conflicts of a Cabinet whose members are collectively worth more than a third of all Americans combined. Difficult, yes-- but that is no excuse to ignore them.
The problem starts at the top. The president-elect has thrown out decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns or disentangle himself from his business connections. Now his Republican allies in Congress seem content to permit Cabinet nominees to do the same.
Republicans have threatened to jam through confirmation hearings despite incomplete FBI background checks, missing financial disclosures, refusals to produce tax returns and incomplete ethics agreements. When the head of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics said his office was under "pressure to cut corners and ignore conflicts of interest" to meet these rushed timelines and criticized the adequacy of the president-elect's plans for his own businesses, House Republicans finally decided to launch an inquiry into-- wait for it-- the Office of Government Ethics. Evidently Republicans don't like an "aggressive stance" on ethics issues.
Intimidating and bullying ethics officials into ignoring their legal responsibilities corrodes our democracy. It also leads to shoddy ethics agreements, which could leave Cabinet members with unresolved conflicts of interest that might affect their official actions.
Casting aside the nominees' ethical obligations puts everyone at risk-- even the nominees. Ethics agreements provide a clear line for executive branch employees between what is illegal and what is not. Conflicts can arise for even the most innocent of government officials. Respecting the process protects nominees from investigation and prosecution.
This problem is not theoretical. Lester Crawford, Food and Drug Administration administrator under President George W. Bush, resigned after only two months on the job and pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges after failing to report ownership of stock in food and drug companies regulated by the agency. President Reagan's attorney general, Edwin Meese, was plagued by conflicts of interest, resigning in 1988 after years of investigations into one scandal after another that distracted the nation's top law enforcement officer. Over the years, many government officials have been caught up in such scandals. These rules exist to prevent such incidents.
Congress must take these ethical requirements seriously. No Cabinet member should receive a hearing before his or her background checks, financial disclosures and ethics agreements are finished and senators have had time to review them. Nominees should be forthcoming and transparent. If those hearings have occurred, nominees who have not completed their ethics reviews should return for another round of questions after that information is made available. Senators should be thorough in their assessment and questioning of nominees. And financial conflicts with official duties must be eliminated.
I recently introduced legislation that would protect the president and vice president from financial conflicts and constitutional violations by requiring them to fully disclose and divest themselves of all personal financial interests. No such law is necessary for Cabinet officials because the laws on the books are perfectly clear.
If Congress ignores these basic ethics requirements today, the American people and the nominees themselves likely will pay the price tomorrow.