Politics
Mike Rounds, candidate for U.S. Senate in South Dakota (Facebook) Mike Rounds, candidate for U.S. Senate in South Dakota (Facebook)  

Open-records law exemptions Rounds signed into law now keep his own records private

Photo of Alexis Levinson
Alexis Levinson
Political Reporter

Four years ago, when he was governor of South Dakota, Mike Rounds pushed for exemptions to a new-open records law that made more government records accessible to the public. Now, as a candidate for Senate, Rounds is taking advantage of those exemptions to keep private a variety of records from his time as governor.

Rounds has denied an open-records request filed by a Democratic group asking for the records, according to a rejection letter sent on May 7, 2013 provided to the The Daily Caller.

The records request was for “all official correspondence, including electronic, from or on behalf of Governor Marion Michael Rounds” during his time in office, “records relating to the Capitol 4th Floor renovation project and Governor’s mansion proposal,” “records relating to DUSEL (Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab) at Homestake Mine,” “correspondence regarding inmate files,” and “monthly reports from the Office of Executive Management.”

When Rounds left office in 2011, he “asserted ownership” of his gubernatorial records, according to a 2012 Argus Leader article. The move exempted those records from the open-records law. Rounds’ predecessor, former Gov. Bill Janklow, had also asserted ownership of his records.

Rounds told the Argus Leader, which was denied a request to see the records, that he had “issued the directive for the sake of consistency, and to ensure the privacy of constituents who might have written him with personal problems.”

A subsequent bill was passed to make gubernatorial records “property of the state” and thus accessible under the open-records law.

Still, some records are exempt. After 10 years or at the time of the former governor’s death, whichever happens later, those exempt records become public. Until that point, it is the former governor’s decision whether or not to release them.

Rounds campaign manager Rob Skjonsberg explained to TheDC that the state archivist determined that the requested documents in this case were not part of the public record, and contacted Rounds to ask if he wanted to unseal them.

“So the request was sent to us, and the answer was no,” explained Skjonsberg, noting that the decision is a “perfectly legitimate position” that is “abiding by the existing law in South Dakota.”

Skjonsberg said that he expects Rounds to similarly deny all other open-records requests as the campaign carries on.

Enabling a Democratic group “to go on some kind of a hunt is not in our interest, or really something that we’re interested in helping to facilitate,” Skionsberg said. He added that while he does not expect that Rounds’ unwillingness to release the records will be a substantial problem in a Republican primary, the issue may be raised.

“I expect the Democrats to make it an issue, because that’s what they like to make an issue out of,” he said.