polo andres Jackley denies Democrat claim of campaigning on taxpayer time
The release said, in part, that the attorney general’s travel budget grew from $60,624.71 in 2016 to $105,689.20 in 2017. That was “an increase of almost 75 percent while running for Governor,” said the emailed release, which included an internet link to a page of accounting data where the figures were listed.
But Jackley said the data used by the Democrats pertained to only one division of his office and had nothing to do with his own travel expenses.
Travel expenses for the entire Attorney General’s Office in 2017 were actually $969,992.04, according to documents provided by Jackley’s office. That amount was down from $987,168.69 in 2016.
Further documents from Jackley’s office showed that his personal travel vouchers totaled $4,803.51 in 2017, up from $4,054.20 in 2016. Those figures are for expenses such as meals and hotels. Jackley travels in a state owned vehicle, and records from his office show the vehicle was driven 14,097 miles in 2017, which was down from 15,674 in 2016.
The source of the Democratic Party’s single page of data appears to be a 327 page report known as the “Blue Book of Other Funds.” The report is prepared annually by the Department of Legislative Audit for the Legislature’s Interim Government Operations and Audit Committee.
Included in the 2017 report are eight pages of accounting data for eight funds controlled by the Attorney General’s Office. Six of the eight funds had travel expenses. Between 2016 and 2017, travel expenses increased in three of the funds including the one cited by the Democratic Party but decreased in the other three funds.
The fund that the Democratic Party drew its figures from is named “Attorney General Other.” The Blue Book says the fund receives revenue from record check fees, consumer affairs settlements, drug seizures and purchases of bound copies of the attorney general’s legal opinions.
Jackley said the travel expenses in the fund are for the Consumer Division of the Attorney General’s Office. His office spokeswoman followed up later with an email attributing the division’s increased travel expenses in 2017 to a pair of factors: consumer settlement agreements, which include mandates to spend money on items such as training or education for investigators; and increased activity by the division’s elder abuse team, pursuant to recommendations and resources stemming from a 2016 report by an Elder Abuse Task Force created by the Legislature.
The state Democratic Party was not the first to notice and question the fund’s increased travel expenses for 2017.
On Dec. 18, about two weeks before the Democratic Party issued its news release, the travel expenses were discussed during a meeting of the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee. Jackley attended the meeting, along with representatives of various other state departments,
to answer the committee’s questions about financial matters.
It was committee member Justin Cronin, a Republican state senator from Gettysburg, who called attention to the travel expenses in the “Attorney General Other” fund.
“What was the increase there, if you could just remind us?” Cronin said, according to an audio recording on the Legislative Research Council website. “It’s about a $45,000 difference. You were pretty constant for the prior three years. What was the difference there?”
The question sparked a verbal exchange that lasted about seven minutes, during which Jackley gave an explanation similar to the one that he and his office later gave to the Journal. The committee asked Jackley to follow up later with documents to support his testimony, and then the committee moved on to other matters.
The committee’s membership includes the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor, Rep. Susan Wismer of Britton, and the only declared 2018 Democratic candidate for governor, Sen. Billie Sutton of Burke.
The Journal asked Sutton if he is concerned about the travel spending by Jackley’s office. Sutton said he looks forward to seeing the additional information that the committee requested.
“Anytime when travel increases for any reason in a large degree within any department, I think it’s important that we just make sure there’s a reason for it that’s allowable,” Sutton said.
Legislative Research Council records show that Sutton received $552.68 in travel reimbursements for the 2017 fiscal year, in addition to the standard per diem and mileage payments that all legislators receive for the annual legislative sessions. The extra travel reimbursements were for attendance at meetings of legislative committees, a task force and an oversight council.
Sam Parkinson, executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said in a Journal interview that he remains concerned about the travel expenses in the Attorney General’s Office, even if the expenses referenced in the party’s Jan. 4 news release are not directly attributable to Jackley.
“If it’s not his travel, we would like to see that. I think there needs to be a little bit more transparency in the Attorney General’s Office,” Parkinson said. “For it to go from just over $60,000 one year to over $100,000 the next year is something that citizens should question and just be curious as to why.”
Parkinson added that, to his knowledge, Jackley’s press conferences earlier this month in Sioux Falls and Rapid City to discuss legislative proposals were the first of their kind. While that is true, Jackley said, it is only because he was short on time this year and decided to conduct press conferences rather than meet individually with various media outlets,
which was his practice in past years.