State investigators are looking at whether campaign finance laws or other laws were crossed by a former member of the South Dakota Attorney General’s staff regarding a telephone company’s business practices and legal ability to operate in South Dakota.
Attorney Scott Swier, of Avon, represents Native American Telecom. The company is accused of improper business practices by another company before the state Public Utilities Commission.
Native American Telecom serves as a source of revenue for Free Conferencing Corp., based in Long Beach, Calif.
Free Conferencing gave $16,500 to Swier last year to distribute as campaign contributions to legislators and legislative candidates.
Swier formed a political action committee to make the donations.
The PAC’s only source of money was the company.
State law prohibits direct donations from businesses and other organizations to candidates. State law restricts the maximum donation from an organization to a PAC to $10,000 in one year.
One of the PAC’s contributions went to state Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes. His re-election campaign received $1,000 from it.
A letter from Lederman was submitted Tuesday to the Public Utilities Commission explicitly defending Free Conferencing.
Swier delivered the letter to the commission.
Lederman said Thursday in an interview he doesn’t know why he was given the $1,000 contribution.
Swier looked to be disappointed after PUC Chairman Gary Hanson said the letter couldn’t be considered as evidence because that stage of the proceeding had passed. Swier walked back to his seat without saying a word in reply. Hanson said the letter would be placed in the public-comment file for the proceeding.
Lederman’s involvement came as a new turn in the proceeding.
Swier referred to the letter repeatedly prior to Hanson’s ruling and made prominent mention to the three commissioners of Lederman’s role as a Senate majority whip.
Lederman also operates his own political action committee, Rushmore PAC.
The Lederman PAC made $500 contributions last year to the political campaigns of two members of the Public Utilities Commission, Republicans Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen. Both won election in November.
Nelson, Fiegen and Hanson will make the determinations in the case involving Native American Telecom.
Swier worked as an assistant attorney general for the state government of South Dakota from March 29, 2007, through October, 15, 2009. He began representing Native American Telecom before the PUC in the Sprint dispute on May 27, 2010.
State Attorney General Marty Jackley said Wednesday that his office and the Division of Criminal Investigation would look into the matters, after receiving an inquiry from a newspaper about the various campaign contribution activities.
The telecommunications PAC’s contributions reach to the highest levels of the Legislature and involve many of the Republican and Democrat leaders. They typically received either $1,000 or $500.
The PAC also made smaller contributions to various other legislators, including some who didn’t face re-election challenges, and in one instance gave $250 to a senator who had announced her retirement.
The PAC also contributed smaller amounts to various other candidates, both Republican and Democrat, and made a substantial contribution to the Senate Republican campaign committee of either $3,100 or $1,500, depending on whose report is checked.
However, Free Conferencing’s effort to influence state legislators dates to at least one year earlier. The year-end report for 2011 from the Senate Republican campaign committee showed a $5,000 direct contribution from Free Conferencing.
Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, is treasurer of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.
“I was introduced to him a few years ago, but nothing more than that,” Brown said. He said Erickson visited the Capitol during the legislative session at one point several years ago and attended the campaign committee’s golf tournament one year.
Three Senate Republicans received $1,000 contributions from the Swier-run PAC. They were Lederman, Brown and Senate Republican leader Russ Olson, of Wentworth. Olson is chairman of the campaign committee, while Brown is treasurer.