South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg says he is reviewing concerns from state lawmakers that Gov Kristi Noem may have violated ethics rules last year in a meeting she held in her office after her daughter failed to be approved as a certified real estate appraiser.
The attorney general is tasked under state law with issuing legal opinions to lawmakers and Ravnsborg said in a statement that’s what he’s doing. He did not respond to a question about what steps he may take.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the meeting in question included Noem, her daughter, Sherry Brenn – longtime head of the appraiser certification program, her boss, and the Secretary of Labor among others.
The appraiser’s license was issued about 4 months later and Brenn retired while claiming she was pressured to do so by the cabinet secretary. Breen sued and the state agreed to pay her $200,000 to drop the suit.
Ethics experts said the episode raised concerns that the governor had abused the power of her office by including her daughter in meeting, especially since Bren said the license denial was discussed.
Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush, told the AP Noem should have recused herself from any discussion of the agency her daughter was seeking certification from because “It’s clearly a conflict of interest and an abuse of power for the benefit of a family member.”
A Noem spokesman accused the AP of using Peters to attack Noem and said her wading into the license process was an example of how she “won’t allow bureaucratic red tape to get in the way of South Dakota’s sustained economic growth.”
Although Ravnsborg and Noem are both Republicans, they’re also political enemies with Noem pushing for the resignation or impeachment of the Attorney General over his fatal hit-and-run accident last fall. Ravnsborg pleaded No Contest to a pair of misdemeanors and received no jail time.