SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — This story has been updated to include a statement from Rep. Haugaard, received Wednesday afternoon.

Over the past few day, billboards in Sioux Falls have been displaying messages attacking state legislators, paid for by a Virginia based group called Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions. The group has a stated goal of supporting the agenda of Governor Kristi Noem.

These billboards are now part of an ongoing investigation according to the Minnehaha County State’s Attorney’s office.

The five legislators targeted are Reps Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham), Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls), Jon Hansen (R-Dell Rapids), Steven Haugaard (R-Sioux Falls) and Scott Odenbach (R-Spearfish).

Of the five, both Haugaard and Smith are challenging Noem in the 2022 gubernatorial election, and four (Gosch, Hansen, Haugaard and Smith) are on the House Select Committee on Investigation, who are charged with deciding whether to recommend the impeachment of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who struck and killed 55-year old Joe Boever with his car in September 2020.

That impeachment investigation is the subject of the billboards, which display messages accusing the five lawmakers of having something to hide, and urging the impeachment of Ravnsborg. Rep. Odenbach does not serve on the committee.

KELOLAND News reached out to the five lawmakers to get their reactions to the billboard advertisements.

Odenbach provided a statement via email, telling KELOLAND News:

I can only speculate that the Governor and her minions in the institute for negative campaign solutions think I may have some better connection to Ravnsborg than other House members since he and I were law school classmates and I’ve spoken to him on a number of occasions since the accident. I’ve been open about that, and he’s never said anything to me he’s not also said publicly or to the investigators. I think it’s also personal with the governor. She can’t stand that I think for myself and have crossed her in the past regarding her failure to take meaningful action regarding Covid vaccine mandates, among other things. I think the Governor is so desperate to have AG Ravnsborg impeached sooner rather than later because she as governor then gets to appoint her own person as A.G. That should come in handy if/when the Government Accountability Board sends findings to the DCI under SDCL3-24 for further investigation into her possible misuse of the state airplane or the firing of Sherry Bren.

Rep. Odenbach

Gosch, who also serves as Speaker of the House, also responded to questions via email Tuesday. The questions, along with Gosch’s answers are outlined below in their entirety. Only formatting has been adjusted for clarity.

Jacob Newton: “How did you first learn of your name being on these billboards?”

Gosch:I was notified by other members of the legislature.”

Newton: “What was your initial reaction?”

Gosch: “That The Executive Branch had reached a new low.”

Newton: “Do you see this as an attempt to influence the impeachment? If so, are there actions/consequences?”

Gosch: “I do see this as a way to influence impeachment. The question is, what is the AG investigating that would drive the executive branch to have such a passion for getting rid of him? Why would the executive branch spend this kind of money to do this? Telemarketing Calls, Billboards? Are they expecting us to believe that these are just random attacks with no common denominator?”

Newton: “Why do you feel only you five were targeted?”

Gosch: “Take a look at who was targeted.

  • Steve Haugaard – Primary Opponent.
  • Jamie Smith – General opponent.
  • Spencer Gosch – Presiding officer of a chamber that didn’t pass her agenda.
  • Jon Hansen and Scott Odenbach – they had an unwarranted public feud in which the Governor went on social media calling them a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Scott Odenbach isn’t even on the committee so why target him? Spencer Gosch is a tiebreaker vote, meaning he hasn’t voted on the committee yet.”

Newton: “What if your impression of this Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions?”

Gosch: “A dark money fund for the administration to use to smear her opponents.”

Gosch also tells KELOLAND News that he has filed an official complaint with the Secretary of States office regarding the billboards. “The committee will also be issuing a cease and desist, the second one issued to the executive branch,” he said.

Smith spoke with KELOLAND News Tuesday morning via Zoom, telling us that he first learned about the billboards from a reporter working on a story about them.

“My initial reaction was I can’t believe it’s already started,” said Smith, alluding to the upcoming gubernatorial race. “I anticipate a long race until November, and I am expecting things like this, but I didn’t expect this one I guess.”

The PAC claims a budget of $800,000 for this year, and Smith says he can only speculate as to where the funds have come from. “I think this is what we call dark money, and I believe it is contrary to what we want to do here in the state of South Dakota,” he said. “I can’t imagine the D.C. politics we’ve brought here to the state of South Dakota — this is not appropriate.”

Smith, like Odenbach and Gosch, is fairly direct in where he places responsibility for the billboards. “It’s paid for by a [Political Action Committee] that says they’re supporting Kristi Noem and her initiatives,” he said. “They’ve pledged to spend a lot of money to go out against people that they feel Governor Noem doesn’t get along with I guess.”

Noem’s office has said she is not involved with the group, but that has not deterred criticism from those targeted by these billboards. “Now I know the governor has said she has no idea where this has come from, but this is definitely people that support Governor Noem — I can only say that these are people that I believe the governor knows, and they are raising funds to help her and her causes,” Smith said.

As for his reaction to the attack? “I appreciate the shoutout. By the way, I was one of the first two people to drop a bill asking for an impeachment last session,” Smith said, “So it’s interesting that they’re going after me. I think it’s just because I’m running for governor.”

Hansen, speaking to KELOLAND News via email, directed us to his Facebook page, where he made comments about the billboards, writing, “These billboards are complete trash. Nothing but innuendo. The worst style of garbage DC politics.”

The post went on, defending the actions and process of the impeachment committee. “The Committee has conducted and will complete this solemn task with honor and integrity. The testimony was heard in open, public hearings. All evidence relevant to the investigation will be released to the public,” he wrote.

As for Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions, Hansen wrote the following:

The “Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions,” on the other hand, which was formed to “generate support for Governor Noem’s agenda” is a dark money, DC style political hit job organization. Its actual goal, apparently, is to assassinate the character and reputation of good, upstanding, fellow South Dakotans.

A word of warning to all South Dakotans: do not let this kind of political garbage win the day. We can still be a place where we debate ideas rather than trash one another just to score political points. But if this kind of smear campaigning wins, all the decent South Dakotans who go to Pierre to serve their people and do what’s right by their constituents will leave or be replaced, and the political swamp will fill the void.

Post by Rep. Hansen

Haugaard provided the following statement on the billboards via email.

Regardless of who is behind the billboards, what you can see is there is a lot of money being spent trying to confuse the issues.  My theme these days tends more in the direction of “Follow the money” and “Follow the thirst for power”. After eight (8) years of service in Pierre, I can tell you that there are lots of great people who serve in both elected office and as state employees.  However, there are some who have political aspirations which know no bounds, and there are some special interest groups who are constantly “at the trough”. South Dakota deserves a Governor who is interested in being IN South Dakota and serving the best interests of the people as opposed to the special interests and special ambitions.  

Rep. Steven Haugaard